BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Chunnakam water crisis has turned into a never ending dispute which has dragged on for over a year. Northern Provincial Council (NPC) expert committee Final Report, independent medical experts pointed out is impugned. Early this year when the Chunnakam water issue aggravated further, due to continuous protests by the people of the area, the NPC appointed a nine-member committee from the Universities of Jaffna, Colombo and Peradeniya, that examined water samples from different wells in Valikamam North; though it was only the well water in Chunnakam that was highly contaminated.
However, the interim report of the expert panel stated that there were chemical properties and there are certain levels of metallic substances proven in the water. Although, the interim report was publicized people were unclear on the exact outcome of the report as it seemed too complex for the villagers of Valikamam North.
Yet, the expert panel, formed by the NPC has currently warned that the ground water in the Jaffna Peninsula was found to be contaminated only with septic germ and nitrate contents of alarming levels endangering the ground water; however, there was hardly any poisonous chemical or heavy metallic substances found in the water.
The expert panel which was formed on the directive of the NPC, early this year, on finding some oil substances in wells in Chunnakam and Tellipalai areas, to submit a report on the state of the present ground water in the peninsula; had handed over the findings to the Northern Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran and Minister of Environment P.Aynkaranesan at the Jaffna Public Library Auditorium on Monday (7).
Hundreds of residents from Chunnakam and Tellipalai areas staged protests early this year; including in Colombo, alerting the officials over the water contamination in the Jaffna Peninsula seemed disappointed in the and has lost hope after the final report that was released early last week.
Experts used hi- tech equipment, and with the assistance of volunteers from the universities and the Ministry of Health did the study and the relevant research for several months in the regions, which are found to be endangered with contaminated water in the Peninsula.
The report in its warning on the Jaffna ground water system indicated that though the water was suitable for consumption, the samples collected from the water in the peninsula had indicated that the septic germs found were an alarming high at over 50 per cent and with increased levels of nitrate. The experts also suggested that the water could be used for drinking purposes after boiling; but reducing the nitrate levels remains a challenge.
The experts responding to a question by provincial councillors pointed out that the usage of the water could be decided on the basis of the report by the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, Specialist Community Physician and former President of the Jaffna Medical Council, who had continuously carried out research studies on the Chunnakam water crisis Dr. Murali Vallipuranathan said the report that was released early this week is disappointing and cannot be trusted as there is no transparency in the report. People should know the mentions in the report as it is their problem. It has not reached the masses at all.
“Transparency is the main feature of Good Governance, the final report of the Chunnakam water crisis should be publicized on the internet for all other experts and the public to view its mentions. However, such an act of non- transparency seems disappointing to all the concerned parties,” he said.
He further went on to say, “How can the NPC justify the final report when it has not been publicized among the people? If it is an honest report, they should first share it with everyone. This is not an unusual issue and more than 250,000 people are affected. How can the NPC neglect these people? Only if it is publicized can the scientific validity be tested.”
The water crisis has hit four main Medical Officers of Health (MOH) divisions, Sandilippay, Uduvil, Kopay and Tellipalai (Chunnakam is in the Kopay Division).
Accordingly, the National Water Supply and Drainage Board of Jaffna carried out an analysis on the ground water quality of Chunnakam area, from November 2013 –September 2014, headed by Regional Chemist, S. Saravanan and his Research Assistant P. Sutharshini.
The research document states that Chunnakam has acceptable quality of drinking water and for other usage, thus water is generated from this area. This water is supplied to many water scarce areas in the surroundings.
“We have continuously observed fuel smell in our Chunnakam water intake sites, which are located very close to the Chunnakam Fossil Fuel Power Station. We analyzed the oil and grease content of the intake well and the adjacent wells. We found oil contamination in these water samples. Due to this we have stopped the pumping from the Chunnakam Intake Site and continue our supply from Pokkani Intake,” the Water Board researchers added in the report.
The Water Board researchers analyzed 150 wells, 109 (73 per cent) wells have shown higher oil level than the standard. The high oil and grease contamination was observed in the surroundings of the Chunnakam Power Station area. Higher nitrate concentration also was observed in this area, because high agricultural practices are going on this area. COD showed the unexpected results and other quality parameters were mostly complying with the SLS 614(1983).
Dr. Vallipuranathan said that the NPC pointed out that the research carried out by the Water Board is incorrect as the researchers have failed to divide the water density by 300, “On my request the Health Ministry tested water samples, which proved there is oil and grease in the Chunnakam Wells. The NPC says that the Water Board research has failed to divide the water density by 300, thus do they say even the ministry has failed calculations? This cannot be accepted. NPC is on an incorrect stand. All shall understand soon. People cannot be always cheated. The NPC has been bribed by those who have contaminated the water. No one is ready to accept this false report,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources stated that people in the Chunnakam and Valikamam North area was quite upset about the expert report. However, certain villagers pointed out that there is no point in agitating further, as the authorities will continue to ignore.
However, Northern Minister of Agriculture Ponnuthurai Ainkaranesan who was in charge of the NPC expert panel stated, that the council has not yet decided further on how the water crisis shall be resolved, “We only received the report early this week, it is too early to decide on further action, as it is being stated that the water contamination is not at risk,”
He further added that various negative comments about the report cannot be accepted as it was 100 per cent accepted by the NPC.