For most people in the west the quality and safety of drinking water is often not a huge concern. The water from the tap is often deemed drinkable and there’s rarely any concern of severe illness or death. For impoverished people around the world the quality of drinking water is very much a matter of the quality of life and in many cases a concern of life and death.
Water quality is a major concern for the migrants. The migrants from the Hariana camp have reported that if the pump is used for a while the water that comes out is of a strange colour. While at the Paro camp the water is obtained from a concrete tank with a build up of algae where water sits stagnantly.
One of the main concerns in regards to drinking water is high levels of nitrate in the water. Nitrate effect on human health can be quite harmful with infants being at the highest risk. Infants may face issues such as problems breathing, blue baby syndrome and death.
For the migrants in Punjab high nitrate levels is consequently a three fold issue. High nitrate levels has been shown to be an issue of concern in Punjab due to heavy use of pesticides as a consequence of the farming practices created during the Green revolution. The Green revolution was implemented by the India government in the 1960s-1970s in order to increase food production. A second issue in particular with the Hariana camp is an accumulation of nitrate from the trash dump which located just below the camps tents. The camp also has about 30 pigs or so, this is a third potential source of nitrate in particular because of the disposal of animal waste.
As for the Paro camp the main health concern in regards to drinking water is the fact that the source of the drinking water comes from an outdoor concrete open air tank that is stagnant and filled with algae. Stagnant drinking water has shown to be of concern primarily because the stagnation provides a good incubator for many different types of parasites and bacteria. A long with being a good environment for bacteria and parasites to flourish, the blue-green algae can sometimes have certain level of toxicity which could cause skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth and liver damage, depending on the toxin.
We are working on getting the water tested and finding solutions to improve the quality of water. Water testing can be done by the district health department. With this in mind it is important to look at other testing options as well, in order to get the most accurate results. Solid results will help us in finding solutions to improve the quality of water which are practical and sustainable for the migrants.
John Vargas, Canada
Health and Community Care Project Manager, Punjab