Chennai, March 16: Only two of Tamil Nadu’s 29 districts are considered “problem-free” as far as safe drinking water and sanitation facilities are concerned, says a study by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.
“Only in the districts of Madurai and Coimbatore, the percentage of families that have access to these amenities are above the average level in the urban as well as rural areas,” says the study, undertaken in collaboration with the state government.
The study was carried out to lay a roadmap for achieving a malnutrition-free Tamil Nadu, which reportedly led the campaign against hunger with its noon meal programme for schoolchildren 20 years ago.
Urban areas fare better than rural areas regarding drinking water and sanitation facilities, the study said, adding that 62 per cent of all families in small towns are deprived of access to toilets.
Ramanathapuram and Kancheepuram districts were the worst affected regarding drinking-water availability in the urban areas, the report said.
The drinking water situation was equally bad in both rural and urban areas in Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga, Pudukottai, Salem, Dharmapuri, Tirunnavamalai and Niligiris districts.
About 30 per cent of the rural families “use toilets” in Kanyakumari, the district which is situated at the southern-most tip of the Indian peninsula and is considered among the most literate in the state.
Rural toilet availability stands at a dismal 4 per cent in the districts of Ramanathapuram and Thiruvannamalai and the South Arcot region.
Agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan says “poor water supply and poor sanitation cause enormous health hazards” and lead to “diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases” in Tamil Nadu.
“Diarrhoeal diseases are one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity among children,” Swaminathan says.
“Biological absorption of food in the body is related to the consumption of clean drinking water, as well as to environmental hygiene, primary health care and primary education,” he adds.
The dearth of toilets could be partly due to cultural factors, the study says.
More than 10 per cent of the households in Tamil Nadu did not have access to safe drinking water till as late as in 1999, the report adds. Nearly 87 per cent of rural households did not have access to toilets.
“There is an urgent need to improve basic amenities as a step towards improving the health status of the population,” the study says, warning that lack of basic amenities will adversely impact public health and nutrition.