Drinking To Death?


For the Awantipora people, water is no better than poison. Saima Bhat reports on a town whose only source of water leads to disease.

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Adil (name changed), 22, had a fever for two weeks and took paracetamol. But the fever didn’t subside. Anxious, his parents consulted a doctor in their locality of Awantipora, who prescribed medical examinations and blood reports. These confirmed that Adil had jaundice—a waterborne disease. Three months later, Adil is still on medication because he was not diagnosed early enough; and his doctor has suggested he remain under observation for about a year.

In Awantipora, reservoir tanks store water from the Jehlum, supplied to the entire town of Awantipora without any filtration whatsoever. And residents are facing the consequences.

Naseema, a resident of Kumar mohalla says, “The water they provide us is no better than urine and we boil that urine as we do not have any other option rather than to drink that water.”

People of this town receive water in the morning for only one hour, and the next time they see water flowing from their taps is after 24 hours. Sometimes, there is no water supply at all for two consecutive days. “In that one hour we fill up our all tanks which we use for washing, cleaning and bathing,” says another resident, Shameema. “People can’t imagine the pathetic conditions we are living in. No one can keep their houses clean as we don’t get a sufficient water supply,” she adds.

Doctors in Awantipora observe that initially, residents would drink tap water without boiling it, but gradually people realized that there was an increase in the number of complaints related to stomach aches and intestinal infections—leading them to conclude that they were being supplied untreated water.

Ahmadullah Dar, a resident says, “I do not even trust the tube well water now because so far no one, not even government, has ever tested the water.” Ahmadullah has a un-controlled thyroid problem which he believes he acquired from unsafe, untreated drinking water.

Economic indicators reveal that most residents of this town live below the poverty line, and therefore can’t afford to boil their water. Mohammad Shaban Kumar, a stone cutter says, “They provided us with six tube wells for drinking purposes, but among them, only four tube wells are working. We too had one in our Mohalla, but that used to give black water first and then it stopped giving that black water too. Presently our women have to go to another mohalla from where they get water for drinking at least, and there they have to wait for their turn in a line of 15 or 20 women.”

The filtration plant which was planned to be set up before 2008, is still in the process of being set up, according to officials. Manzoor Ahmad, JE Civil Division, PHE Awantipora, says it is going to take five or six more months to complete the process of ‘civil construction and allotments’ and after that, they can’t say how long it would take to complete the project—which is assumed to provide 1MGD (million gallons/day) water.

The existing filtration plant has a capacity of 40 litres a day for three to ten villages. But residents estimate this particular plant has not been working for the past five to ten years.

Some people have resorted to other measures. They’ve pooled money and bought motors for four to five homes—motors which are fixed directly on the banks of the Jhelum, and provide uninterrupted water supply.

However, some others do not want to take a risk. Abdul Hamid Wani, a resident of Bilal Colony in Awantipora says, “Our pipeline has been dry for a long time, we had our own tube well which is 100 feet deep but still it doesn’t have water. Another public tube well is near our house but we don’t take its water as I feel it does not give us clean water which can be used for drinking.”

He adds, “For drinking water, every morning we go in our car to a nearby spring which is 1km away and fill up our cans of 10 and 15 litres which we have specially bought for this purpose.”

The persistent water shortage is mostly an issue for the people living in the areas including Kumar Mohalla, Bilal Colony, Ghat Mohalla, and Astan Mohalla. The Jabara area is out the league—residents of this area have their own private tube wells since the region doesn’t have even a pipeline.

Mohammad Shaban, Assistant Motor Man, PHE Mechanical for the filtration plant, has been working in this plant for five years. He says, “Since I was posted here I have never seen the filtration plant working, we just preserve the water in our reservoir and then supply that water to the entire village in the morning. The present capacity of the reservoir is 4000 gallons.”

The JE, PHE department says, “We used to give them water from wells, but wells have depleted now and we have to manage the water from two wells and a spring only.” However, the official did not acknowledge the water shortage for the entire town of Awantipora and said instead that it is a problem faced only by two mohallas.


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