Source of Mahabaleshwar Water Contamination And Solution Strategies

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Pune, 5th January 2024: For decades local and tourist populations in Mahabaleshwar were facing health problems of diarrhea, food poisoning, acute respiratory infections, fungal infections and even typhoid, with morbidity, patients had to be admitted in hospitals for treatment. Vulnerable populations like children were suffering from severe Rotavirus infections even after being vaccinated these cases took time for recovery in hospitals. Diabetics and other vulnerable populations suffered from severe infections too. Mahabaleshwar being a very popular tourist destination, both the local and tourist population were exposed to this high health risk

Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), Pune, undertook the Health Risk Assessment research project through its Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD) to assess the cause of the diseases and find solution strategies. The project was headed by Dr. Priti Mastakar with the five Research Assistants from Gokhale Institute, Nikhil Atak, Disha Sawant, Rohinee Satpute, Suraj Bhole and Vinit Dupare. All expenses were borne by Gokhale Institute.

What we did:
The Gokhale Institute research team landed in Mahabaleshwar in the month of May this year to find out the origin and extent of the diseases by examining all the hospitals and clinics records in Mahabaleshwar and Panchagani. Once they assessed the high health risk to the local and tourist population, especially the vulnerable populations of the children who are being vaccinated against Rotavirus, they set up examining the causes of the diseases.

What we found:
Finding that the cause was contaminated drinking water, thorough water sampling was conducted from the waters of Venna Lake, the drinking water source of both Mahabaleshwar and Panchagani as well as from all other sources, the water treatment plants, households, commercial establishments and ground water. All water samples showed high contamination including ground water. The research team then set about finding the source of this contamination which was equine waste that was entering the water from the horses parked right above the Venna Lake and moving around the lake as well as the presence of the horse waste on all the roads and along the water pipelines in Mahabaleshwar. Equine waste contains viruses and bacteria besides other contamination, hence the highly contaminated water.

Recommendations and solution strategies:
The team found solution strategies for preventing the contamination without disturbing the business activities of Mahabaleshwar which is highly dependent on tourist population.
The solution strategies included the:
separation of the contamination from the water source, a better location for horse activity that can earn them better and steady income like a horse riding and training center that can serve both the local schools, colleges and populations, tourist and local
the provision of a biogas plant that can convert horse waste into biogas and electricity. This biogas can be provided to the horse owning community free in the form of gas for a community kitchen if the horse owners collect all the equine waste, an incentive to collect the waste as input to the biogas plant.

The involvement of the business community in both Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani as they would be very much interested in keeping their drinking water source clean and would certainly help in implementing the solutions.

Action taken:
The results were presented to Jeetendra Dudhi, Collector of Satara, and to Yogesh Patil, the COO of Mahabaleshwar, and the Tehsildar of Mahabaleshwar, Tejaswini Patil. All of them welcomed the vital research work done by Gokhale Institute and promised to take immediate action. Changes are already happening in Mahabaleshwar as per the solutions suggested by the Gokhale Institute Team, the treatment plants are being repaired, the shops lining Venna Lake have been removed as they were adding to the health risk due to contaminated water.

A vital research work in Health Risk Assessment due to contaminated drinking water at Mahabaleshwar has been successfully completed by Gokhale institute at their own cost to reduce the high health risk to both local and the tourist populations, especially the vulnerable populations of children, diabetics, and promote safety and sustainability in this popular hill station.