Dirty Clothes + Kidney Disease:
Water Shortages In Southern Sri Lanka
Water problems in the Bandagiriya area in southern Sri Lanka are a long-standing problem. Locals are suffering from kidney diseases as a result, among other problems.
“Without water we cannot send our children to school,” says Rupa Kanthi , a local in Bandagiriya, the highest point in the southern Sri Lankan district of Hambantota. “Some days they have to go to school in dirty clothes.”
Research has found pesticides and heavy metals in the tank water.
But this may well be the least of the water problems being faced by the people in this area. Development projects have been robbing the district of its water supplies for years, locals say. They believe that more than 6,500 people in parts of the Hambantota district are dealing with all sorts of problems due to the lack of water.
A community development project launched in 2002 had provided drinking water for a while but became polluted around three years ago, says T. H. Priyantha, chairperson of the Bandirigirya Community Development Centre. “That water project was operating for 15 years but it has now become defunct. The water level in our tank cannot be maintained because of the agriculture in the area. It’s not a permanent water tank either, it fills up in December but is dry by August.”
The community has tried to fix filters in the pipelines but at the moment mud still gets into the drinking water. “Various diseases are spreading because of this,” Priyantha says.
Medical reports show that local people may be contracting kidney diseases because of the contaminated water they are forced to use, says M.A.G. Munasinghe, head of the local farmer’s union. Sometimes the Bandagiriya tank is filled using water from as many as 17 other tanks.
Research by Mangala De Silva, a professor specialising in environmental toxicology, in the University of Ruhana’s department of Zoology, found pesticides and heavy metals in the Bandagiriya tank water.
“Kidney disease has been becoming more prevalent in various parts of the Hambantota district,” De Silva told The Catamaran. “As a result we inspected the water sources and found that they were not suitable for use. After that, we tested 100 people in the district for kidney diseases and found between 15 to 20 of them had symptoms.”
“We haven’t had drinking water for three months,” complains another local, Ashoka Ranjane. “In the past we held protests,” she says, adding that despite the fact that most of the people here are Buddhists it was a Christian cleric who collected money to bring a water truck to the area. “No else cared for us,” she notes.
“A lot of people are facing hardship because of this long standing problem,” says the cleric, Father Ranjith Ananda. “I provide water when I can but this cannot happen every day. A permanent solution must be found.”
Dealing with their own neighbourhood drought, many of the locals still see it as a cruel irony that when they did hold protests about the problem in 2015, the authorities sprayed them with water cannons. So much water, they thought, but none of it for them to drink.