Heavy reliance on groundwater puts most of the rural population in West Bengal at risk from arsenic and fluoride contamination. (Photo: HIMANSHU SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images).

Indian government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed £184.97 million loan agreement on Wednesday (3) for providing safe and sustainable drinking water to about 1.65 million people in three districts of the state of West Bengal affected by arsenic, fluoride, and salinity.

The signatories to the West Bengal Drinking Water Sector Improvement Project were additional secretary (Fund Bank and ADB) Sameer Kumar Khare, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, signed for Indian government whereas, Kenichi Yokoyama, country director of ADB’s India Resident Mission, signed for ADB, said India’s Ministry of Finance in a release on Wednesday.

Heavy reliance on groundwater puts most of the rural population in West Bengal at risk from arsenic and fluoride contamination that can lead to health problems including cancer and bone diseases.

The project aims to mitigate these risks through the provision of continuous potable water through metered connections to about 390,000 individual households in three districts – Bankura, North 24 Parganas, and Purba Medinipur.

“The project addresses the concerns relating to excessive use of groundwater to sustainable surface water based piped schemes,” said Khare. “This will help mitigate the health risks from using groundwater with elevated levels of arsenic and fluoride,” he added.

Yokoyama said, “Besides reducing the burden of diseases from contaminated groundwater, the project will promote higher service levels compared with rural schemes in India with individual household connections and district metering area based metered continuous water supply, and use of advanced technology for smart water management.”

The project is supported by a grant of £2.31m from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, financed by the government of Japan, and a £1.54m grant from ADB’s Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund.

This will support the state government in strengthening its smart water management system, improve flood-related early warning and response, and provide training on operation and maintenance as well as climate change and disaster resilience.