Politicians can bring change

A story of how Balasore, Odisha responded to the Fluorosis problem

In December of 2015, Balasore district of Odisha was not even recognized as a Fluoride affected district. By June of 2016, it becomes the second district in the entire country to have a DFMC — District Fluoride Mitigation Committee. Within this period, 5 departments have started to organize themselves in Remuna block and in August 2016, an entire block level water quality assessment is being carried out with the help of school teachers.

In order to understand how this entire transformation happened in the local situation, one needs to go back to October of 2015, when Kesar of the India Water Portal, Hindi division, and an active member of the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network (FKAN) organised civil society organisations of Odisha to meet in Bhubhaneswar on the Fluoride issue. Amongst these organisations were RCDC — Regional Centre for Development Cooperation, who were active on the issue in Nuapada with support from Nuapada. This meet helped in bringing together the situation of Odisha’s Fluorosis affected people to FKAN and brought out earlier work such as a statewide situation compilation earlier done by RCDC.

Now connect with another parallel effort in which Sundar Senthilnathan and Shanthini Dawson of Arghyam were brewing a highly innovative partnership with the Swaniti Initiative, a New Delhi based organization that works with Parliamentarians in development issues. The idea was to have 4 round tables in a year to get Members of Parliament appreciate various Water issues and help them to act on them. Given that Mr Subba Reddy, the MP from Ongole in Prakasam of Andhra Pradesh was already in touch with Swaniti about support for the Fluorosis problem in Prakasam, there was a background which gave a priority to Water quality issues. Hence the first such round table was held in New Delhi duringDecember 3, 2016 in which around 18 MPs attended to the session on Fluoride and Arsenic issues. Rwitwika Bhattacharya of Swaniti led this effort whereas Utkarsha Bharadwaj of Swaniti gave he presentation to the MPs in which both the Fluoride and Arsenic network Secretariat representatives supported.

At the end of this meeting, one MP came forward and said that his constituency had severe Skeletal Fluorosis affected people who needed urgent support. He was Mr Rabindra Kumar Jena, the Lok Sabha respresentative from Balasore in Odisha. He requested that an FKAN team immediately visit the location and suggest the way ahead. Utkarsha followed up on this and arranged the first such visit in middle of January 2016.

The FKAN team of Sunderrajan Krishnan and Rajnarayan Indu saw severe Skeletal Fluorosis affected people in Remuna block of Balasore. It was suggested to act immediately on both Safe Water and Nutrition for these people. Following this, the MP arranged for the visiting team to present to the district DLVMC on the seriousness of the problem.

An action plan was prepared by FKAN and a visit by the Odisha State Health minister Mr Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak resulted in a request to determine a full block level survey of Remuna. This meeting was assisted by FKAN network member A B Paul of Assam.

Following these, the MP organised a meeting in June in which Swaniti and FKAN participants, along with RCDC member, Mr Bimal Prasad Pandia participated with the District collector, sub collector, and 6 department heads of the district. It was in this meeting in mid June that a decision for formation of DFMC with the leadership of the sub-collector and alongside membership of 5 departments, membership of FKAN and RCDC person also was brought in.

In July 2016, the FKAN fellows from Nalgonda, Subhash K and Sadguru Prasad, conducted a field visit to Remuna, set up a local team of two persons with help from RCDC, trained them and activated all the block level departments to conduct the block level survey. As of August, schools across the block have collected water samples for testing and under the supervision of the DFMC, understanding the situation and preparing the next step.

This entire happening of 8 months in Balasore is one typical example of how the FKAN engages with multiple partners (Arghyam, Swaniti), responds to local needs(MP’s request), harnesses available skills (RCDC), contributes necessary inputs (the Nalgonda fellows), and develops capacities within the system (DFMC) to respond to the Fluorosis problem with long term sustenance in mind.

This entire process is not possible without the passion and commitment of individuals such as Utkarsha, Sundar, Shanthini, Kesar, Mr Jena and local partners such as Bimal Pandia. The fellows of FKAN bring life to this passion and extend such impactful work throughout the country.

We expect more such wonderful networked solutions to seemingly complex problems such as Fluorosis.

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