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Development of a low cost technology for in-situ treatment of groundwater for potable and irrigation purposes (TiPOT)

Description of Development of a low cost technology for in-situ treatment of groundwater for potable and irrigation purposes (TiPOT) (2004 - 2007)

Looptijd 2004  -  2007
Contact Wouter de Groot
Financiering EU (Asia Pro Eco Programme)


  • Marieke Hobbes


Arsenic poisoning in eastern India and Bangladesh is termed as the worst case of mass poisoning in modern times. A rough estimate shows that more than 70 million people are affected in both countries due to involuntary arsenic exposure through consumption of drinking water and rice, the main staple food in the region. The primary cause of the problem is very high arsenic content in groundwater, which is used for both drinking and irrigation purposes. Arsenic in groundwater in the Bengal basin appears from natural leaching of underground volcanic rocks. In 1999, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF conducted a global survey to assess the quality of water supply and sanitation in the third world countries. According to this report, between 28 and 35 million people in this region are exposed to water having a very high level of arsenic. Chronic arsenic toxicity causes clinical manifestations e.g. spotty pigmentation of skin of the body, keratosis of palms and soles, chronic lung disease, liver fibrosis, peripheral vascular disease, peripheral neuritis, and cancer of skin, lung, bladder and liver. Lack of proper health risk assessment and poor access to alternative safe water has forced millions in eastern India to use arsenic contaminated water.

The overall objective of this project is to formulate practice-based guidelines for a rural water treatment technology for eastern India which ensures arsenic free water for general consumption and irrigation at low cost. The project also aims to enhance food safety in the affected areas through sustainable irrigation and farming practices. The recommendations will be made based on extensive fieldwork, analysis of available data on water quality and usage, irrigation, cropping pattern and socio-economic status of the people.


The overall objectives of the project are the establishment of a technology partnership to support an eco-friendly and low cost in situ treatment technology to generate water for drinking and irrigation purposes in an arsenic alert zone in eastern India.

The target groups comprise over 70 million marginalized people whose quality of life might be improved as well as local entrepreneurs, government and non-governmental organisations, and EU agencies and enterprises, which are willing to participate in this vast economic activity for common benefit.

The main activities will include recommendations for, among others, the establishment for low-cost in situ subterranean arsenic removal and the improvement in agricultural and farming practices to reduce arsenic contamination in the food chain. The history of technology abounds in examples of ‘perfect’ technologies that failed due to incompatibility with the desires and capacities of the intended users. CMLs involvement is especially geared towards the prevention of such failures: to go beyond “install and run”. For this, it is required that:

  • there is capacity and responsibility for maintenance: variants of embedding the technology (e.g. leasing; sale of performance), and
  • that motivations for maintenance last: the (unsubsidized, private) Cost Benefit Analyses (CBAs) of all actors in the delivery system chain.

The initial focus will be on gathering local information and feeding this information to the technology designers so that it matches the local capacities and desire (in terms of scale, simplicity, labor intensity, robustness, etc.). In the second part, the focus will be on the design of the local delivery system (i.e. structures with a capacity to move a technology into a society) and matching it with the local economic, social and cultural background.

Care will be taken to carry out the cost-benefit analyses on the appropriate system levels (e.g. private, tube well group, village), in the appropriate mode of accounting (financial or economic), and the appropriate time horizons (discount rates). Furthermore, for designing a successful delivery system, issues like community support, social hierarchy, hope for a better life, fears and taboos, trust in the authorities, capacity for collective action (‘collective social capital’) will be carefully analyzed. All will be done by way of an integrated system of data gathering and analysis, called “Integrated rural analysis in context” (IRAC). The framework comprises of various components and methodologies that integrate into the core of the TIPOT research (the analysis of the delivery system):

  • Time studies at village level.
  • Economic analysis (e.g. cash flows, CBAs, markets of all actual and near-actual products and activities)
  • Rural material flow analysis (rMFA) at village level,
  • Substance flow analysis (SFA) on arsenic (in context),
  • Action-in-Context study (AiC).


CML is directly involved in the research in a village, where the in situ technology is being tested. An Indian researcher, Mrs. Sukanya Sarkhel, will work full time on data gathering and preliminary analysis.