Making water pure and simple
Hand pumps, such as the one above, are the water source for most villagers. Photo by Allison Kwesell
A s your dentist knows, some fluoride is a good thing. Too much, however, can be devastating. The residents of Patari, a village in Uttar Pradesh, are among the millions of people in India who suffer the consequences of fluorosis, an irreversible condition caused by elevated levels of fluoride in drinking water.
Amit Mishra, of the Rotary Club of Unnao, hands a fluoride filtration kit to Mangal Prasad. Photo by Allison Kwesell
The dental symptoms of fluorosis include mottling and erosion of tooth enamel, and its painful effects on bones can result in deformities, calcification of ligaments and tendons, and osteosclerosis.
“The fluoride, because of its strength, rots teeth and destroys bones,” says Maurice Halliday, past governor of District 1020 (Scotland), which worked with District 3110 (India) to provide fluoride filters to 60 families in Patari through a Rotary Foundation Global Grant project. “Many people are bent and bowlegged, if not totally disabled. Farm animals are also affected.”
In a 2001 study of Patari and three nearby villages, researchers measured fluoride content in drinking water. The World Health Organization has set 1.5 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water as the safe upper limit; in Patari, drinking water measured up to 3.45 milligrams per liter. The body absorbs as much as 90 percent of the fluoride in drinking water, and the risks increase for people who perform manual labor in hot climates such as Patari’s, because they drink more water than average.
Fluoride occurs naturally in water throughout the world, with several belts of high groundwater concentrations. One stretches from Eritrea to Malawi, and another from Turkey through Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, northern Thailand, and China. In China, fluorosis is endemic in every province, autonomous region, and municipality except Shanghai. In India, it affects about 25 million people.
According to a WHO report, “fluorosis might be one of the most widespread of endemic health problems associated with natural geochemistry.”
Earlier this year, photographer Allison Kwesell traveled to Patari and several other villages to document the children – in whom the irreversible effects of too much fluoride are only beginning to surface – and their parents and grandparents, hunched over canes, legs bowed.
She also photographed the Indian Rotarians who delivered the specially designed filters. The US$40,000 global grant project also provided toilet blocks, safe drinking water, and hygiene training to eight schools serving about 2,300 students in Uttar Pradesh. The effort addressed two areas of focus under the Foundation’s Future Vision Plan: disease prevention and treatment, and water and sanitation.
WHO estimates that almost one-tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and management of water resources. As the Indian villages demonstrate, the solution requires a targeted approach, including assessments of each community’s needs.
From India, Kwesell traveled home to Tennessee, USA. In August, she headed to Tokyo to begin studies as a Rotary Peace Fellow.
Meanwhile, District 1020 is researching another fluoride filter project, Halliday says, that would provide filters to another 400 households in the region.
Facts about global grants
In 2010-11, the first year of the Future Vision pilot, The Rotary Foundation awarded 208 global grants totaling nearly US$12 million to support large-scale sustainable projects in 46 countries. Global grant activities must address at least one of six areas of focus.
Pilot clubs and districts can either develop their own global grant activities or apply for packaged global grants. Packaged global grants provide opportunities to work with the Foundation’s strategic partners, including Oikocredit International, Aga Khan University, and Mercy Ships, on projects such as setting up vocational training teams, establishing nursing scholarships, and collaborating with microfinance institutions.