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Safe water still a far cry in govt schools

punjab Updated: Apr 01, 2013 20:37 IST
Harshraj Singh

Health takes a back seat in the dusty corridors of government schools in Ludhiana district. In a recent survey by the district health department, it was found that 91 water samples collected from various schools in the district were unfit for drinking, putting students at the risk of potentially fatal diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis and typhoid.

During the survey, carried out in January and February, 133 water samples were collected from schools. Most of the failed samples were collected from government schools.

During the survey, the health department came across several worrying facts. Coliform Bacteria, which are found in sewage and can lead to gastroenteritis, were also present in several samples collected from schools, said a health department official, who did not wish to be named.

Told about the results of the two studies, most parents said they were surprised. However, education department officials toed a different line. Their answers lacked conviction; district education officer (secondary) Parmjit Kaur even feigned ignorance about the steps taken to provide safe drinking water to students. "I don't know anything about it. Can I get back to you later?" she said.

The education department is yet to install water purifiers at government schools. "Water purifiers have already been installed at some schools by the health department. But now, we plan to install them this year," said district education officer (elementary) Ranjit Singh Malhi.

Most of the failed samples were taken from government schools in rural parts of the district comprising Machhiwara, Malloud, Sidhwan Bet, Jagraon, Koomkalan, Payal and Manupur blocks. On how to tackle the problem, Dr Anish Chopra, a gastroenterologist at Christian Medical College and Hospital, said schools should have water purifiers. "If there is no provision of water filters then boiled or chlorinated water should be provided," he said.

However, the father of a government school student said that even installation of water purifiers would serve no purpose. "A water purifier has been installed at my son's school in Samrala, but it has not been serviced for long. What is the point behind having a water filter when it does not do its job due to non-maintenance?" said the Samrala resident, who did not wish to be named as he feared that his son would be targeted at school.

Data showed that 33 of the 65 water samples in January failed the test. The results of water samples collected in the month of February were much shocking; 58 of the 68 samples failed in laboratory tests.

The reports of the water samples, a health department official said, would be sent to higher authorities. "We carry out such tests regularly," assistant civil surgeon Dr KS Saini said.

He said the health department had asked the erring schools to ensure chlorination of water. "A photocopy of the report has also been sent to them," he said.

Parminder Kaur, headmistress at Government High School, Bassian Bet, told that the sample of water was failed but the health department had collected the sample again as they had cleaned the tank from which the first sample was collected. A private company had donated water purifier, she added.

Worrying finding
During the survey, the health department came across ever samples that comprised Coliform Bacteria, which can lead to gastroenteritis. Dr Anish Chopra, a gastroenterologist at Christian Medical College and Hospital, said Coliform Bacteria was usually found in sewage. "Gastroenteritis is a serious disease; it can even lead to death," he said.

Its deadly cousin
Escherichia coli (E coli) are a form of Coliform Bacteria; they are a rod-shaped member of the coliform group. E coli are of faecal origin and their presence is an effective confirmation of faecal contamination. Some strains of E coli can cause serious illness in humans.

Symptoms include: bloody diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting and occasionally fever. Can be fatal in the 0young, elderly and immune compromised. (Source: Wikipedia)

Other health risks
Water found unfit for consumption can also lead to diarrhoea, hepatitis and typhoid, said a doctor of a city-based hospital.

Dr Atul Goyal, an associate professor at CMCH, said several children visited hospitals for these conditions. "But we cannot pinpoint where they contracted the infection."

District education officer (elementary), Ranjit Singh Malhi

Q: What steps are being taken to provide safe drinking water to students at government schools and how many schools have safe drinking water facility?
A: District education officer (elementary) Ranjit Singh Malhi said that the department would make efforts to provide safe drinking water to students. Water purifiers are available at several schools but they have been installed by the health department. The exact number of schools having water filters is not available.

Q: When will the education department provide water purifiers at various schools?
A: The education department has plans for the 2013-14 year to install water purifiers at various government schools. But at present, we don't have funds to purchase water filters for all the schools.

Q: Did you know that Coliform bacteria were also found in the water samples at several schools and it could cause serious illness?
A: No. But as you have informed us, appropriate steps will be taken in a week.