Despite being surrounded by water, Varghese Mollykutty used to row a boat four kilometers along a narrow canal to a public water source to fetch a few pots of drinkable water for her family. She and her husband and two children live on a tiny island village, Kuttanad
, a unique marshy delta in India's southern state of Kerala that lies below sea level. Recently floods in the southern Indian state killed more than 350 people since June, peaking in August with 37 percent excess rainfall in just two-and-a-half months. Kuttanad, although ringed by water flowing from four perennial rivers, is one of the thirstiest areas in India. Its water is loaded with heavy microbial elements such as coliform bacteria and so is unusable for drinking or any domestic chores. Most houses in Kuttanad have wells but the water is unusable because it is acidic with mineral content, brackish or unsafe with bacteria. But Mollykutty now has a method to filter well water to make it suitable for drinking or any household chores.
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"It has come as a big boon to us. We don't have to go kilometers for water anymore. We can get it any time we want by opening a tap. We have only to fill the filtering chamber with water from our well," she says. Mollykutty and others speak highly of the system developed by Siji Mathew, a high school dropout. His method, which uses a unique combination of sand, crushed granite and charcoal, was developed after seven years of trying. His efforts began after his family's 40-year-old well's water suddenly turned red. "I tried 216 methods over a period of seven years to make the water potable. Finally, I found success with a three-tier chamber filter," Mathew told ucanews.com. The system was soon taken up by Thiruvalla Archdiocese and became popular with villagers looking for a low-cost solution to their perennial water problems. Bodhana, the social service arm of the diocese, fine-tuned the method. The church agency has installed filters in 6,000 homes in Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. The filters cost 750 to 5,000 rupees (US$11-75) depending on their capacity. They have not only relieved families from a daily struggle but also helped them save the money they used to spend on collecting water from distant locations. "We used to hire a rickshaw daily to bring water. Now we don't have to spend any money for getting safe water within our premises. We use the water for all our daily chores and drinking," says Bindhu in Thalavady village. Mathew says the filters do not incur any recurring costs. Users only need to clean the upper two layers containing crushed granite and river sand when slush accumulates in the chamber. Filters are installed close to wells for convenience. Treated water is tested at Bodhana's laboratory to ensure its quality. Mathew says tests had revealed that the water was of superior quality. Bodhana representatives visit villages occasionally to collect and test water samples. However, some people are not convinced about the water's purity. One family in Thalavady village use the water only for domestic chores. They still buy filtered water from outside for drinking. This was due to a misunderstanding that the filter is not effective, according to Suja Jose, a former member of Thalavady's village council and a project animator. She said most people in the village use the water for drinking and had not reported any health problems. Sunil Kurian from Changankary village says some people are not prepared to trust that a simple filter can turn highly contaminated water into potable water. "People in Kuttanad have been using the backwater for cooking, drinking and washing for centuries. It has become unfit for human consumption in recent years because of pollution caused by tourism expansion that has led to a proliferation of houseboats [that dump human waste in the water]," he said. This has taken a heavy toll on people's health. Several outbreaks of rat fever
and diarrhea, which have killed some 5,000 people in recent years, are believed to have been caused by use of contaminated water, a local newspaper reported. This year Pope Francis' message
for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation Sept. 1 also focused on "water." It is precisely for this reason that "care for water sources and water basins is an urgent imperative," the pope said. He pointed out that water represents an essential element of purification and of life and that "Jesus, in the course of his mission, promised a water capable of quenching human thirst for ever."