Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is this water fit to drink?

By Paritosh Chakma

Access to safe drinking water is an acute problem throughout the hilly tribal state of Mizoram in the North East India.

Chakma tribal villagers do not have access to safe drinking water. The most common sources of water are the rivers. But the rivers are often polluted by bathing and washing of clothes and dirty utensils by the entire village population, by bathing of cattle and more importantly, by cremation of the deaths (Chakmas cremate the corpses on the river banks) thereby rendering the river water not fit for consumption.

As an art handed down over generations, the Chakma women build temporary tiny shallow “ponds” on the sandy river banks from where they usually collect the drinking water. It is not known how clean and germs-free the water is that is believed to gather into the “sand ponds” after filtration from the river body.

The villagers have to find alternatives in the rivulets and small springs. It is here that traditional knowledge comes handy.

The Chakma women carve tiny shallow “ponds” in stony surface at specific locations near tiny rivulet (see the pictures). Although clean water is believed to sieve from the bottom of the rocks or from the tiny rivulets, it is certainly not germs free. Fungi (and what not) grow around the pond surface.

The problem is majority villagers do not have water filter to purify the water. They are too poor to buy one. They also do not have a habit to boil the water before drinking. As a result, water-borne diseases are common in the remote areas.

During rainy season, it is difficult to get drinking water as it is impossible to collect drinking water from these “ponds” or the rivers. People usually harvest rain water in rainy days.

(All the photos used here are taken by the author during a visit to a remote Chakma inhabited village in Mizoram, near the India-Bangladesh border in January 2010)


Maraland said...

Hi Paritosh, why Chakmas have to cremate the corpses in the river banks? This is strange to me!! I hope the state gov't will do more for Chakma villages. Villages in South Mizoram are also the same. They do not have access to safe drinking water. The current PHE Minister is now trying to solve those problems. Let's see how far it will go. Keep blogging!

Paritosh Chakma said...

@Maraland:Thanks for being an optimist as always. I am also optimistic that the govt will do more soon. I know lack of access to safe drinking water is a problem throughout Mizoram, not only for Chakmas. That is why began by saying- "Access to safe drinking water is an acute problem throughout the hilly tribal state of Mizoram in the North East India."

As for buring the corpse on the river banks, it is a tradition for the Chakmas. Chakmas do not bury their deads like Christians or Muslims;they burn. Tradition also requires them to immerge handful of ashes (remains after cremation, like the Hindus do)into the river the next day. This pollutes the river downstream. As several villages are situated along the river, the river water in think i not safe for drinking.

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