Members of Bal Sansad testing the quality of the drinking water in their school in the Mousabani block of East Singhbhum district in the eastern Indian State of Jharkhand.
By Ankush Singh
JHARKHAND, 22 March 2010 – Soon after their classes are over, around a dozen students from Pathargora Upper Primary School in the Mousabani block of East Singhbhum district in Jharkhand are busy packing their portable water testing kit.
These students are members of the local Bal Sansad or Child Cabinet, who have been trained to test the quality of drinking water from the hand pumps and wells in their village.
The Bal Sansads project is a joint initiative of the Department of Human Resources Development, the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department, the Government of Jharkhand and UNICEF.
Proudly carrying the kit on her shoulder and leading her cabinet, Saloni Mardi, the Prime Minister of this Bal Sansad explains how the collected water samples will be tested for harmful bacteria and chemical content.
“After the testing of the water, we can conclude whether the water is safe for drinking or not. This is essential information that has to be communicated to the villagers who are using this water for drinking,” says Surumuni Hansda, the Health Minister in this Bal Sansad.
The group first collects water samples from a hand pump which is located adjacent to their school premises.
Mardi and her cabinet colleagues quickly divide the testing work among themselves and test water for pH value and chemical contents such as iron, chlorine, fluoride, and nitrate.
The whole process does not take more than 20 minutes but the test results for harmful bacterial content will only be available in another 24 to 48 hours, explains Mardi.
The group then tabulates the results and prepares a report which will be used later by the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department (DW&SD).
The report of the test conducted by Mardi and her team show that the tested sample, though safe for drinking, has high iron content and high acidic value. Their results are corroborated by the DW&SD trainer and official who accompanies the students.
Shiv Kumar Pathak, a junior engineer in the DW&SD explains to the team that although the iron content and acidic value in the water samples collected are on the higher side, the water from this hand pump is still safe for drinking.
Bal Sansads to check water quality in schools
Bal Sansads will now undertake the task of checking the water quality of every school hand pump and well annually, a task which at present is done by DW&SD officials.
“Earlier, we involved the Panchayat Coordinators in the water testing work. However, they failed to provide the report within the prescribed time limit citing various reasons for the delay,” says Pathak.
The DW&SD, however, is confident that they will get good results from the involvement of Bal Sansads, who they maintain are sincere in their approach to the assignment.
Students have also been assigned the task of testing the water in their village on days when they are free. According to DW&SD officials the school children will have to test the water quality of not more than a dozen sources, a task that can be completed in one day.
Besides harmful bacterial content and morbidity, the Bal Sansads will test the water for iron, fluoride, nitrate and chlorine status.
The DW&SD suggests that the water samples from sources which are declared unsafe for drinking by the students be sent to testing facilities. Necessary action will be initiated if the testing facility results confirm to the results of the Bal Sansad students.
Apart from testing the water from various sources, Bal Sansads are also involved in educating the community on safe drinking water.
During the training sessions, the students are given information on the need to drink safe water. They are also informed about the consequences of consuming unsafe drinking water.
“I am sure that the villagers will get in touch with our Bal Sansads to know the quality of water they are consuming. In the process the students will also spread the message of the importance of consuming safe drinking water. Moreover, the members of Bal Sansad take their work seriously and will complete the task assigned within the time frame,” says Bhola Jha, headmaster of the school.
“We have an open well in our house which should not be devoid of chlorine. I am eager to test the water sample of my well and find how much chlorine there is in it,” says Varsha Kumbhakar, Gardening Minister in the Bal Sansad.
After the training, Varsha knows that bleaching powder should be administered for the disinfection of the open well for six times a year.
“This is an excellent example of creating awareness about water quality and its link to health within the community. The school children bring to their homes awareness about the water quality which has a direct impact on the health of the family and the community. Now people know the dangers of unclean water and the ways to mitigate them,” says Dara Johnston, Water and Environmental Sanitation Specialist at UNICEF India
Earlier, the students had also tested the water samples collected from twin hand pumps located in their school premises.
“Thankfully the water was found to be safe for drinking and our health is not at risk,” say Suchitra Soren, Health Minister in the Bal Sansad.