Arsenic Mitigation

Project : Replication of Arsenic Mitigation through Behavior Change Communication at North 24 Parganas, West Bengal
Project Area : Bagdah, Bongaon, Gaighata, Habra I & Habra II, Barasat I & Barasat II, Amdanga and Deganga Blocks of North 24 Parganas District, Berhampore, Farakaa Blocks of Murshidabad District
Client : UNICEF, Kolkata & PHED, Govt. of West Bengal
Project Duration : September 2016 to December 2017

West Bengal is the most severely arsenic affected State in India with millions of rural population being at risk of consuming high levels of Arsenic through drinking water. National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), 2012 focused on the redress of the water quality related problems and arsenic and fluoride affected habitations have been accorded priority, followed by iron, salinity, nitrate and other contaminants. Accordingly, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Govt. of India, had issued orders in 2012, directing the States that have arsenic or fluoride issues, to mark the unsafe hand pump tube wells red, in order to restrict people from consuming arsenic contaminated water. Promoting awareness and bringing in a behaviour change through Information, Education & Communication (IEC) activities and among the communities was considered a key component to make the red marked linked behaviour change effective.
Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED), West Bengal, supported by UNICEF took up the red marking initiative as a pilot programme with an aim to scale it up to the arsenic affected areas. Hijli INSPIRATION a not-for-profit organization was engaged to address the issue arsenic mitigation through behaviour change communication in the “pilot for replication” project, as a UNICEF partner.

Arsenic Mitigation Approach in West Bengal
The present initiative can be considered as an interim approach of the PHED in addressing the issue of arsenic contamination by considering the permissible limit at 0.05 mg/L and red marking of tube wells based on it but gradually addressing the problem considering   0.01 mg/ L threshold level.

“The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) Guidelines follows the physico-chemical and bacteriological limits prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) laid down IS 10500-2012 for safe drinking water. As per this standard, the permissible limit for arsenic in drinking water was 0.05 mg/L.  BIS has reduced the permissible limit of arsenic in drinking water from 0.05 mg/L to 0.01 mg/L through an Amendment issues in June 2015”. Excerpts of the letter from Joint Secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India dated 26th September 2016.

Objectives of the initiative:
Within the overarching mission of ensuring safe water practice for the people at large, the objectives of the initiative have been:
i) To increase overall awareness on Arsenic and bring in behaviour change towards a safe water practice
ii) To coordinate with governmental initiative in marking unsafe tube wells red
iii) To identify the vulnerable habitations which are constrained by access and accessibility and facilitatethe   safe source support
iv) To build local institutional capacity through behavioural change approaches, collective interactions and training for sustaining the mitigation drive in the long-run

Developed BCC strategy for Arsenic Mitigation Activities involved
i) Community mobilisation
ii) Assessment of Knowledge, Attitude and Practice related to arsenic contamination and water use
iii) Communication strategy design for awareness and behaviour change towards safe water practice followed by capacity building of stakeholders particularly on the Gram Panchayat members of arsenic mitigation measures and community Institutionalisation
iv) Assessing vulnerable habitations, which need governmental intervention through creation of safe water source
v) Facilitating with PHED and District Administration for addressing the issue of providing safe water

The Pilot activity led to the design of a model to be replicated by WSSO in other arsenic affected locations.

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