Dwindling water supply, ‘smelly’ drinking water is making people sick in Kashmir

With natural resources and abundance demanding that there should be no water shortages in Kashmir, this is far from reality on the ground. Residents have not only been complaining of water shortages, but smelly and unusable drinking water flowing in the pipes. 

At least six people have died in the past few days, while repairing and cleaning wells. While water shortages have been forcing people to look for alternates, many of those who do receive supplies, say that the water is either too muddy, or too smelly.

Low pressure of water, and lack of proper electricity supply to use motors, has driven many to desperation.

Locals says that when they do finally get the water, to be able to drink this ‘drinking water’ one has to instal expensive purifiers, which everyone cannot afford.

“It has been more than two weeks now, since we have been facing water shortages. And when the water does finally come, the pressure is too low. We have been connecting water pipes to the well of one of the residents, and supply water to the households who need it,” says Mushtaq Ahmad of Lal Bazaar.

The situation is just as grim in other areas.

Last week, the residents of Eidgah and Habba Kaddal staged demonstrations to protest against the unavailability of water in these areas. The residents in Eidgah blocked traffic while protesting, and were sloganeering against the Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department.

The police, to pacify the crowd, had to call the PHE representatives to calm down the crowd.

Another resident from Nawabagh, Lal Bazaar while speaking to Free Press Kashmir said, “our tube-well is being used by the entire locality. They even pooled in money to repair the motor of the tube-well, bought new pipes and even offered to contribute to the electricity bill. We have been experiencing water shortage since December here.”

But this is not an issue with Srinagar only. In Kupwara’s Kralpora too water has been scarce.

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, a resident said that the PHE department has been saying that the problem is ‘directly from the source’ while officials off-the-record say that due to irregular attendance of class-fourth workers, the functioning of the department and supply of water is disrupted.

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However, the department says that it is the people who are responsible for these shortages.

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, Abdul Samad, an engineer with PHE in Kupwara said, “the residents are using the water illegally and hence we are not able to make the water reach to every resident as we used to before. There are 12 illegal connections in one agricultural field in Batpora, Kupwara. We have been repeatedly asking them to first utilise the water for drinking, and then when there is abundance, to use it for other things.”

The officer says that the PHE team went to Batpora, Kralpora yesterday to supervise this usage of water, but have not been able to make much progress.

When asked about the attendance of the fourth class worker, Samad says that this is completely baseless.

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Meanwhile, 6 people in Kupwara have lost their lives while working, or cleaning wells.

Two of them died on July 9, after the well collapsed, and four died more died after they slipped down a well they were cleaning.

Shariq Ahmad Khan, 25, had tried to help the two people but fell unconscious while trying to rescue them inside the well. He had to be rushed to the nearby hospital. Luckily, he was saved.

In December, 2019, a similar problem was witnessed by residents of Batmaloo but with an added tragedy of the water being ‘infected’ and smelly.

“The kids of our locality are getting sick every now and then, and the cases of hepatitis are increasing. In December 2019 my nephew got sick and when we took him to the doctor it turned out that he has Hepatitis. My parents suffered joint pain suddenly. When we finally called PHE,  it turned out that the values of iron and magnesium were in abundance,” says a resident of Sheikh Dawood Colony, Batamaloo.

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People who can afford it, have installed expensive water purifiers now, boiling the water is not enough anymore, the resident says. “Most of the people here are labour class and daily wagers, they cant afford these machines. Cases of sickness have been only increasing,” the reisdent added.

Riyaz Ahamad, a pharmacist from the locality who has been referring people to the concerned medical expert as complaints keep piling up, says, “the PHE department came to the locality multiple times but with no solution. 15 days back a group of children came to my clinic and their hepatitis range was beyond normal. I have received similar patients, all children, since December 2019. I refer them to the medical experts in SMHS Hospital. But the water problem in Batmaloo has been going on for almost 6 months, and children from the age of 13 have been getting sick.”

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Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, Chief Engineer, PHE Kashmir, Iftikhaar Wani said that water tankers have been sent to Lal Bazaar and Eidgah and will be sent to “wherever water is required” in the future.

“People have been misusing water and using it in abundance for things like gardening. The heat has been increasing and people need more water for drinking, hence the supply is not sufficing the demand,” he says.

The PHE department has not received any reports of sickness due to water in Batamaloo, or other areas.


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