Groundwater Quality in India Distribution, Social Burden and Mitigation Experiences

Sunderrajan Krishnan, Rajnarayan Indu


A variety of quality issues affect groundwater in India. The reasons for these quality problems are rooted to groundwater exploitation, external contamination from point/non-point sources and natural geogenic processes. Biological and chemical contamination of water account for a massive disease burden on society leading to child mortality, labor loss due to recurring disease, chronic ailments, etc. The impact of some of these problems is exacerbated due to current hygiene, malnutrition and poverty status of the people. The key problems can be pointed out as – biological contamination, fluoride, salinity, nitrate and iron problems, and industrial contamination. Apart from these, other quality problems such as strontium, heavy elements, etc., also exist and interact with these wider-spread problems. One of the main challenges we face is the lack of good and vast geological understanding of the distribution of these contaminants. Since the current network of quality measurements is highly insufficient, numerous civil society initiatives have emerged attempting to involve community in monitoring water quality. Some understanding has emerged out of this, but the quality of these measurements and kits are sometimes in question. The social burden of some of these quality problems has been documented by research studies. Problems such as fluorosis impose a massive social cost which can be a significant part of the income. On an already malnutritioned population, fluorosis and arsenicosis add to health complication leading to severity which otherwise would not be observed in healthy individuals. The loss to agricultural productivity from water quality problems arises especially in salinity affected areas. In iron-affected areas, pipes and wells can be affected. Kidney stone, a root cause of which is poor hydration, is also a major health burden. Mitigation measures are possible for each of these quality problems. In many cases, however, there is interaction between quality problems such as those with iron-arsenic-fluoride (Assam), salinity-fluoride (Saurashtra, Gujarat) and say, biological-arsenic (WB). Therefore, we need a region-specific typological approach that considers the particular characteristic problem of the area. There are good successful cases for several of these mitigation issues – watershed-based measures along the coast for salinity in Saurashtra, RO plants in affluent areas across the country, rain water harvesting for assuring safe drinking water, referral hospitals for particular problems such as fluorosis, low cost filters for fluoride, arsenic, etc. As a good response to all these problems, what we need is integration of efforts – across different disciplines such as geology, health, technology and management; across different departments such as public health, water supply, education, rural development; across tiers of the government and Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs), across public and private institutions. Water quality management needs to enter
into every aspect of governance in order to achieve an overall impact.


Water Contamination, Water Borne Diseases, Groundwater

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