Quelling the aqua quandary | Daily News

Quelling the aqua quandary

Gallella Water Treatment Plant.
Gallella Water Treatment Plant.

For A. Kamalawathi, 84, pipe-borne water is a luxury. To not have to worry about water and to not have it take up hours of her day, however, was not a privilege she would have. Everyday she would struggle to fetch water for her home in the Anuradhapura district to meet her daily needs, but that was until 2013.

Yudhaganawa CBO Chairman 
G. P. Chaminda Preethikumara.

In 2010, a Reverse Osmosis (RO) treatment plant was built by the Nelum – Samadi Integrated Community-Based Organization (CBO) in Diulankadawala, Yudhaganawa, based in the Anuradhapura district.

When officials were looking for land to establish the plant, Kamalawathi volunteered to donate her land to build the plant. According to Kamalawathi, she hoped that her community would not have to go through the same struggle for water as she did.

Many were given lands to build houses in her village in 1995, but many had left over the years due to lack of water.

Community-based organizations, in collaboration with the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), are in the forefront in distributing pipe-borne water and drinking water in rural areas.

“People left the village, we had to walk several kilometres to fetch water, which was not an easy task. There were not many trees and plants in the village before, as there was not enough water,” said Kamalawathi.

Water supply changed lives

Kamalawathi Amarasinghe.

Most experts agree that the presence of chemicals in groundwater have contributed to the prevalence of the Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu) in several parts of the country, although the actual factor still remains a mystery.

Yudhaganawa CBO Chairman G. P. Chaminda Preethikumara said supply of clean potable water was making a difference in the lives of the CKDu patients and the residents.

“People were drinking very less water before, but we see a difference in that too. Now young, as well as older people drink a lot of water. CKDu patients have also personally said that the RO water makes them feel better,” he said.

Preethikumara said as there was no definite reasons found for the cause leading to CKDU, he was not sure whether RO water could mitigate CKDu yet, but assured that there was a drop in the number of new CKDu affected patients in the area.

“The people need not queue up to collect water anymore. We cater to more than 500 families,” he said. These areas have seen positive changes through Secondary Towns and Rural Community-Based Water Supply and Sanitation projects, financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through a series of loans.

“Today, most of the residents have safe and regular water supplies tapped to their homes,” said Asian Development Bank Senior Project Director Kamal Dahanayake.

“The project increased the quality of the potable water that was available. Fresh water was treated to ensure that it was safe for drinking and waste water was made safe for secondary uses,” he added.

These improvements have eased the work load in the lives of people in the area and M. D. Dhanapala, 60, a resident of the same village testifies to this fact as he is relieved to have clean water to drink and wash his clothes.

He said that he had a hard time building his house without sufficient water, but was now happy that there was pipe-borne water for daily use.

Rural water supply

Completed urban water schemes are handed over to the NWSDB for operational purposes and are assisted by zonal CBOs, while in rural areas completed schemes are handed over to CBOs for operation.

Preethikumara said that CBOs were self-sufficient and that there was no burden for the government.

The principles of the project are compatible with the National Policy for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation in Sri Lanka (2001) which speaks of “demand-driven, people-centered, participatory decision-making, beneficiary involvement in managing resources, strengthening and institutionalizing of beneficiary organizations, maintaining lowest cost in operational and maintenance (O and M) activities by CBOs and community contribution to construction costs.”

CBOs were key factors in the implementation of sub-projects at the community level, from awareness-raising and planning through construction and operation and maintenance. CBO membership consists of all households using water supply and sanitation facilities.

Each CBO has an elected executive committee and is registered with the NWSDB and local authorities as a voluntary organization under the Social Welfare Act.

Water treatment plants

In early 2000, only 29 percent of the population, mostly in urban areas, had pipe-borne water services and one-quarter of the population had no access to safe sanitation. Under Section 3 of the government’s Millennium Development Goals objectives, its aim for 2015 was to reduce the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water by 50 percent.

To achieve this objective, the government proposed a two-pronged strategy involving large-scale system expansion for urban schemes and a vast number of small scale community involvement initiatives, to bring water supply and sanitation services to poor communities.

In addition to improvements in water supply facilities, the project provided improved sanitation to thousands of households, as well as institutional support and technical advice to CBOs responsible for managing and operating water supply schemes in rural areas and small towns. Zonal CBOs have also been established in all urban schemes to assist the NWSDB in operating and managing these schemes.

The water treatment plant in Gallella, Polonnaruwa, with four water towers has a capacity of 13,500 cubic metres per day.

“The water is well chlorinated and absolutely safe for drinking,” said Dahanayake.

The plant in Chilaw, which is under constructions, treats for algae—a feature not available in other water treatment facilities in Sri Lanka.

In addition, the project supported applied research in technical, institutional, social and other aspects of water supply and sanitation provisions in Sri Lanka. In urban water supply schemes, beneficiaries contributed labour for pipe-trenching and pipe-laying. This contribution was particularly significant in the Anuradhapura district, where more than 200 km of pipe-trenching was excavated by community members themselves.

Water and sanitation projects

Residents filling vessels with clean drinking water.

Two major projects named as the 'Dry Zone Urban Water and Sanitation Project' and the 'Secondary Towns and Rural Community Based Water Supply and Sanitation Project,' were initiated to provide water and sanitation facilities to people living in Chilaw, Puttalam, Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Muttur and Hambantota.

Dahanayake said that these projects are aimed at providing sustainable rural water supply systems through active community participation in water supply project, construction and maintenance.

The total cost of the Secondary Towns and Rural Community Based Water Supply and Sanitation Project was USD 401 million. The ADB provided a loan of USD 260 million, the government contributed USD 138 million and the community contributions was around USD 3 million.

The project carried out by the NWSDB commenced in 2003 and was completed in 2014. It included urban water supply projects for Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Muttur and Hambantota, along with community based rural water supply projects in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa districts. The project provided safe drinking water to 500,000 people and safe sanitation facilities to 93,000 people.

The Dry Zone Urban Water and Sanitation Project, at a cost of USD 163 million, had the ADB provide a loan of USD 125 million and the government contribute USD 38 million. The implementation period is from 2010 to 2017. The project was implemented in Chilaw, Puttalam, Vavuniya and Mannar. Septage treatment plants and public toilets were established in Chilaw, Puttalam, Vavuniya and Mannar. In addition domestic toilets were provided to 1,800 families.

Dahanayake explained that the project will directly benefit approximately 200,000 people and when completed by 2030 it will benefit around 420,000 people in urban areas of the north-western dry zone by providing safe drinking water and improved sanitation.

“In addition, around 100,000 people will gain access to improved sanitation, pit desludging and septage handling, treatment and disposal. More than 400,000 will benefit from improved water management and distribution as well as improved ecology,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new wastewater treatment system using an organic system has been implemented- a method to treat septic waste. The project also implemented a sanitization process for septic waste that would turn it into gray water—water that can be used to nourish gardens—preventing the septic tanks from overflowing into clean water sources. 


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