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Children spearhead safe-water practices in India

© UNICEF India/2010
Members of Bal Sansad test the quality of the drinking water in their school in the Musabani block of East Singhbhum district, in the eastern Indian State of Jharkhand.

By Ankush Singh

JHARKHAND, India 19 March 2010 – Soon after their classes are over, a dozen students from Pathargora Upper Primary School in Jharkhand are busy packing up their portable water testing kit.
These students are members of the local ‘Bal Sansad’, or Child Cabinet. Members of this mock government have been trained to test the quality of drinking water from the hand pumps and wells in their village.

The project – a joint initiative of the Department of Human Resources Development, the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department, the Government of Jharkhand and UNICEF – is helping children lead the way in celebrating World Water Day on 22 March.

Testing the water

Proudly carrying the testing kit on her shoulder, Saloni Mardi, ‘Prime Minister’ of the Bal Sansad, explained how the collected water samples would be tested for harmful bacteria and chemical content.

© UNICEF India/2010
Members of Bal Sansad collect water for testing from a tube well adjacent to their school in the Musabani block of East Singhbhum district.

The group first collects water samples from their school’s hand water pump. Next, Saloni and her cabinet colleagues divide the testing work and examine water for pH value, as well as for chemical contents such as iron, chlorine, fluoride, and nitrate.

“After the testing of the water, we can conclude whether the water is safe for drinking or not,” said Surumuni Hansda, the cabinet’s Health Minister. “This is essential information that has to be communicated to the villagers who are using this water for drinking.”

The testing process takes 20 minutes and results are available within two days. The group then provides a very real service for the Government, tabulating the results and preparing a report which will be used later by the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department.

Children are instrumental

Shiv Kumar Pathak, a trainer from the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department who accompanies the children, explains to the team that although the iron content and acidic value in the water samples collected are on the high side, the water from this hand pump is still safe for drinking.

© UNICEF India/Tom Sampson
A woman collects water at a hand pump in the village in Dehlot in India. UNICEF is working with the Government of India to highlight the importance of safe drinking water and sanitation.

As part of the child participation project, Bal Sansads will now undertake the task of checking the water quality of every school hand pump and well annually. At present, this task is done by Government officials. Students have also been assigned the task of testing the water in their village on days when they are free.

Child water testers are instrumental in educating the community on the risks of unsafe water and how to employ hygienic practices to curb contaminated water. 
“I am sure that the villagers will get in touch with our Bal Sansads to know the quality of water they are consuming,” said Bhola Jha, the Headmaster of Pathargora Upper Primary School. “In the process, the students will also spread the message of the importance of consuming safe drinking water.”

Creating awareness

“This is an excellent example of creating awareness about water quality and its link to health within the community,” said Dara Johnston, Water and Environmental Sanitation Specialist at UNICEF India. “The schoolchildren bring to their homes awareness about the water quality, which has a direct impact on the health of the family and the community.” 

© UNICEF India/ Tom Sampson
Workmen give final touches to a hand pump in Tonk district in India.

He added that, through the project, residents are learning about the dangers of unclean water – and the ways to mitigate them.

The children’s involvement is a component of UNICEF’s commemoration of World Water Day, which will be celebrated on March 22 with more than 60 events worldwide.

For more information, please visit http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday/.



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