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close this bookEnvironmentally Sound Technologies for Women in Agriculture (IIRR, 1996, 213 p.)
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View the documentEfficient use of irrigation water

Safe drinking water

Some 1.5 million children under the age of five die in India every year because of water-borne diseases. While most people know that bad water causes sickness, relatively few know that water carries diarrhoea, cholera, and stomach disorders. Rural women are the principal collectors, storekeepers, and users of water at home and in communities. Therefore, they must know how to ensure that the water they use is safe.

What is safe water?

Water is safe when there is nothing in it that can cause a disease. Safe drinking water must be:

- Free from harmful germs (bacteria, parasites, viruses, etc.)
- Free from harmful chemicals (such as pesticides) and foreign matter (such as dirt)
- Pleasant to taste or tasteless
- Colourless or crystal clear
- Odourless

Importance of safe water

Not all water is safe for human use-drinking and cooking. Contaminated water can be dangerous to health. It is a source of deadly diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, gastroenteritis, typhoid, jaundice, polio, guinea worm infestation, worm infection, and other health problems.

What causes contamination in water sources?

Human excreta-faeces and urine Animal excreta-dung and urine Bathing, washing, and cleaning activities Industrial effluent from mines, mills, refineries, etc. (Dead fish seen frequently in water might indicate the presence of chemicals.) Wastes from cities Improper garbage and waste disposal Pesticides and fertilizers washed into rivers and groundwater Dead and decaying animals and plants, especially in stagnant water Soil erosion

Due to these pollutants, water becomes unsafe for domestic use and, therefore, unsafe for drinking.

How to recognize unsafe water

Unsafe water has various harmful chemicals (such as iron and fluorides), germs, and waste materials. Harmful chemicals and germs cannot be seen with the naked eye but can cause unpleasant odour or taste.


To be sure, get your water tested. Take a sample of water for testing to your local water-testing laboratory.


Wells should be situated away from sources of contamination.
Water from hand pumps can become contaminated in the rainy season.
Prevent surface water from entering wells.
Keep washing areas and sources of contamination downstream from your water source.

Unsafe water has:

- unpleasant, biker or salty taste might be due to excess of iron and various salts like chlorides.

- foul smell-might be due to gases, germs, sewage, and/or algae.

- cloudy or turbid appearance might be due to excess of mud, clay, salt, iron, decaying organic matter, dyes, etc.

In general:

- running water is safer than stagnant water.

- groundwater is safer than surface water.

- covered wells and hand pumps are safer than open wells, tanks, and ponds.

- tubewells are safer than open wells.

- deep wells are safer than shallow wells.

Can you identity the sources of contamination In this picture?

Source: Notional Drinking Water Mission, Government of India