Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Maha village can show the world how to beat Zika

Magic pits help several Nanded villages become mosquito-free
At a time when the world is reeling under an outbreak of the Zika virus, several villages in Nanded district of Maharashtra have successfully drowned out the mosquito buzz with underground soak pits that suck in waste water. The four-foot-deep pits dug behind every house in the villages are making the usually overflowing open drains redundant, thus depriving mosquitoes of their breeding grounds.The project has roots in a decade-long successful experiment in Tembhurni village in Himayat Nagar taluka. Adopting the Gandhian principle of shramdaan (voluntary contribution for a cause), sar panch Pralhad Patil carried out construction of soak pits behind every house to collect waste water. When they began, Patil recalls, government funds were hard to come by . So villagers pooled funds. They dug pits which are covered with a cement pipe that has four equidistant holes at the top. A layer of sand and fine gravel is spread under and around the pipe to allow waste water to percolate slowly into the ground. “Within a year of all houses getting the new soak pits, the village became free of mosquitoes,“ says Patil, who gave up a career in engineering in the 1980s to carry out sustainable development in his village. The step assumes significance against the backdrop of dengue, malaria and other mosquitoborne diseases plaguing Maharashtra.
The project had an unexpected additional benefit. The village, which was heavily dependent on tankers for water supply till 2002, became self-sufficient after half-a-dozen handpumps in different parts began spewing water. “Water flowing into the 200 soak pits gradually drains down into aquifers, thereby recharging groundwater. Our village hasn't faced water scarcity in recent years,“ Patil says.
Nanded zilla parishad chief executive officer Abhimanyu Kale stumbled upon the Tembhurni project in 2014 and decided to replicate it across the district.Funds from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) are being used to construct the pits, which the locals call magic pits. “We set up the pits using Rs 2,000 for each under the scheme,“ says Kale. The effect of the pits on mosquitoes was evident in Kamlaj village in Mudkhed taluka, where a TOI team stayed overnight. The all too familiar buzz was absent from 11pm till dawn on the terrace of a centrally-located house. The drains are dry and clean. As a result, stagnant water around houses, on streets, and choked drains has become a thing of the past. The zilla parishad plans to achieve similar results in over 1,300 villages of the district.
The pits have also affected the villagers' social lives. Draupada Wadvare, a homemaker in Dhanyachi wadi, a hamlet in Hadgaon taluka of Nanded, now limits her visits to her mother's place to a couple of days. Wadyavare's village is virtually mosquito-free, with all 133 houses equipped with the magic pits, but her mother's village hasn't implemented the plan. “I feel my children are safer at their own home,“ she says. Scientific studies in the area have also supported the project's claims. Nanded district health officer Balaji Shinde says the transmission rate of mosquito-borne and water-borne diseases has decreased by nearly 75%. “We have done several rounds of surveys through the villages, but have not been able to find mosquitobreeding sites,“ he says.
Though the campaign received tremendous public response, there remained several skeptics. Ganesh More, a farmer who owns nearly 15 acres of land near Sonkhed village in Loha taluka, ridiculed officials promoting the pits. All that changed when the dry well in his farm had water trickling in through natural channels a few weeks ago. “Our village does not have any trace of stagnant water in winter and summer. As a result, the rainwater percolates easily into the dry ground and fills the aquifers during monsoon,“ says Tembhurni sarpanch Patil.Nearly 50,000 soak pits in different villages of Nanded are now recharging groundwater in the area.
Word has spread about the magic pits and now, government teams from Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka and Odisha have begun camping in Nanded to see the model at work. The state rural development department too has endorsed the model and asked other districts to emulate it. At his official residence, Kale's enthusiasm to ensure a mosquito-free district is palpable. In one conversation, he addresses the malaria officer and says, “I want your post to become extinct. A progressing country like ours does not need such a department.“

Source| Times of India, 08.02.2016, p.12,

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