Monday, May 27, 2013

Groundwater Depletion, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu) and Jaffna River Project

From Hidayathulla and Karunaratna
A recent research article by Thushyanthy Mikunthan and C.S. De Silva highlight the accelerating
depletion of the limestone groundwater aquifer in Jaffna peninsula. There are two serious concerns that need to be addressed because of this.

a) As the authors point out, with thousands of people returning to settle in the former war zone, groundwater extraction is bound to increase, resulting in  shortages of water supply in the Jaffna peninsula for agriculture and domestic use.

b) With pesticides and fertilizer runoff seeping into the groundwater  the main source of drinking water in the Jaffna peninsula, kidney and other health issues are going to become more common.  I think the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu) prevalent in Anuradhapura will be be a walk in the park, compared to what is probably in store for the Jaffna dwellers.   CKDu incidence in Jaffna has been low probably because agriculture and use of fertilizer/pesticides were minimal due to lack of access to markets in the South during the civil war.

Background on Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu).
The majority of CKDu patients are from the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kebithigollewa, Girandurukotte, Padaviya, Vilachchiya and Ampara  areas. In the Anuradhapura area CKDu prevalence averages around 12% and affects more women (62%)  than men (32%).  The disease progresses slowly and majority of patients do not have any symptoms until they are in the late stages of the disease

Many causes have being attributed to CKDu excessive cadmium in the natural environment; high levels of fluoride in drinking water; using fluoride-rich water in low quality aluminium pots; “hard water” with higher than normal levels of minerals; and toxins generated by blue-green bacteria in the water and of course Arsenic.  My untested opinion is that dioxins too may be a cause (see Dioxin causes Kidney Disease: Alternative Explanation to Arsenic). If Dioxins are one of the causes of CKDu then not just the individuals exposed, but potentially the great-grandchildren may experience increased adult-onset disease susceptibility.

So what can be done
a) Better testing and monitoring of ground water (and blood).
b) Increased rain water collection and harvesting.
c) Controlled use of Fertilizer, Pesticide
Testing and Monitoring of Ground Water 
Ms. Thushyanthy Mikunthan has publications on water quality.  However, the analysis are for rudimentary components, e.g. chloride, iron and sulphate concentration, total alkalinity, total dissolved solids,  pH and Nitrate.  Let alone dioxins and dioxin-like product, metals or arsenic are not tested.  Most likely this is because the equipment and material needed for sophisticated testing (e.g. HPLC's) are unavailable in Jaffna and/or testing in Colombo is cost prohibitive.

So maybe its time to consider a project to test/monitor groundwater for metals, dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals.  Maybe donation of instruments, or a collaborative research project to link agricultural use, dioxin content in ground water incidence CKDu and effect of alleviation methods such as rain water harvesting.
Increased rain water collection and harvesting
The biggest project for Rainwater collection that has been proposed and partially completed is the Jaffna River project. The basic concept is to create fresh water lakes from the Elephant Pass, Vadamarachchi and Upparu lagoons, by preventing saltwater intrusions.  More details from D. L. O Mendis in the Daily News
As  Dr Rajasingham Narendran says
The ‘ River for Jaffna’ project, which is vital for Jaffna is stalled , although considerable work has been recently done. The Elephant Pass lagoon has been isolated from the sea on both sides. I was pleasantly shocked to learn yesterday at a seminar on water resources that this work was completed by the government in 2008, amidst the war. Further, after the war the Thondamanaru and Ariyalai barrages have been reconstructed. However, the construction of the Mulliyan canal to connect Elephant Pass reservoir with the Vadamaracchchi lagoon has not commenced. The bund of the Iranaimadu tank has been raised preventing a natural spill into Kanagarayan Aru and flow into the Elephant Pass reservoir. Mr. Anandasangari is leading the effort against Iranaimadu waters spilling over to fill the Elephant Pass reservoir. It is imperative that the government make the visionary river project for Jaffna of the Late Engr. Arumugam come true. There can be no greater blessing for Jaffna. This project if completed will make Jaffna bloom in every possible way – agriculture, tourism, inland fisheries, industrialisation fresh water availability, good quality ground water availability, greenery etc.,


Water Resources Development, Jaffna Peninsula by  K. Shanmugarajah, Fast Books, Australia, 1993

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