By: Alissa Mallinson
The air was hot and gritty. Shehazvi had to squint to see past the sun into the edge of town, past the cars and motorcycles whizzing by, past the scorched earth, to where old buildings stood beautiful in their own way, muted pinks and oranges still curving and curling in all the right places. No rain again today.
She and her daughter climbed out of the rickshaw and walked down the alley that leads to their home, 200 rupees lighter than when they left for Jalgaon city earlier that day. That’s how much it cost every time she took her daughter to the doctor for stomach pains. The culprit? The salty drinking water.
“Excessive salt intake can be quite detrimental to one’s health, both in the short and long term,” says Maulik D. Majmudar, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
But there is no grocery store in Shehazvi’s rural Indian village where she can stock up on bottled water. There is no on-demand tap of drinking water that’s already been prepared for her safety and comfort. There is no reliable electricity.
The Cost of Clean Water
Shehazvi is a teacher and resident of Mhasawad, a village of about 8,400 people that flanks the Girna River in Maharashtra, India. Unable to watch her daughter suffer further pains from drinking salty water, she recently started paying 30 percent of her monthly income to receive treated water from a reverse osmosis (RO) plant. With an average salinity 75 percent lower than that of the untreated town water, the treated water is worth the cost to Shehazvi.
“The water that is supplied is contaminated, and my daughter was always in pain,” she says. “I had to repeatedly take her to the doctor in Jalgaon, and it was very expensive. So I started buying filtered water. Now the stomachaches and the illnesses are gone.”
But despite the benefits, most of the residents of Mhasawad can’t afford RO water, from which bacteria and salt have been filtered out, and thousands of people in the village regularly drink water with a salinity level above 1,200 parts per million (ppm). To put that into perspective, the World Health Organization recommends levels under 600 ppm, and the water in Cambridge, Massachusetts, usually doesn’t get above 350 ppm at its worst.
“Everyone wants to drink the clean water,” Shehazvi says. “But what do they do if they can’t afford it? I only get paid 2,000 rupees per month and buying this water has been difficult.”
If the lower-income households can’t afford the RO-treated water, they definitely can’t afford the health costs associated with drinking salty water. One man living in Mhasawad says he spends around Read more »