Displaced, disabled and facing disease – finding safe drinking water in Sri Lanka

Mum-of-16 Sinachchi, 74, faces a struggle every day in Sri Lanka to meet even her basic needs, including fresh water, due to her leprosy-related disabilities.

She is one of 780 million people in the world today without easy access to safe drinking water. Sinachchi was left with 'clawed' hands as a result of suffering from leprosy many years ago.

She has the choice of walking two kilometres to fetch clean drinking water or taking water from a disused well nearby that has become contaminated with debris. Because of the disabilities in her hands and the problems they cause when carrying water, she often risks infection and disease by drinking the unsafe water.

Sinachchi and members of her family were displaced from their land in Sri Lanka as a result of the war between the Sri Lankan Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1991. Family members were killed in the cross-fire.

After living in make-shift accommodation in a village five kilometres away for the past 22 years, they have been told they can re-claim their original land and fish on the nearby coastline once again to earn a living. The original infrastructure has been removed by the military, however, and the well fallen into disrepair. The Leprosy Mission England and Wales plans to work with Sinachchi and her community to provide them with low-cost housing, toilets and a clean water supply.

Head of Programmes Coordination at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, Sian Arulanantham, has just returned from visiting the Sri Lankan community.

She explained: "Leprosy is a disease which blights the poorest of the poor. If not caught early it disables which, in turn, sees people stripped of their livelihoods. They then live in substandard housing with a lack of clean water and sanitation – the ideal breeding ground for the leprosy bacillus.

"I witnessed this community's joy at being able to return to their land but, at the same time, despair as all the buildings and the infrastructure they established have been removed. We desperately want to help this community rebuild their village and provide them with a fresh water supply so that they don't continue to jeopardise their health by drinking from the original well which has fallen into disrepair."

The Leprosy Mission England and Wales funds water and sanitation projects each year in a bid to provide poor communities affected by leprosy with basic amenities. It recently constructed a water tower at Danja Hospital in Niger providing a clean water supply to 40,000 patients using the hospital each year, as well as the communities surrounding the hospital which are extremely poor.

In Danja village, leprosy-affected Hadjara Souley collects a nominal payment of five West African Francs for every 30 litres of water collected from other the pump. Previously villagers had to walk 2km to collect water – a task which proves difficult for leprosy-affected people suffering from a clawed hand or ulcers on their feet. The money pays for any repairs needed to the pump as well as Hadjara's wages.

Hadjara said: "In the past people were suffering to get water. They had to walk 2km to the well and they got injured when collecting water. It took one or two hours to get water and people's skin would get burnt in the sun by walking."


Source: Leprosy Mission