Indian drought sparks riots and poisoning

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The Independent Online

India's water troubles won't go away. The north-west of the country is still struggling through the worst drought in a century with the help of massive relief from government.

India's water troubles won't go away. The north-west of the country is still struggling through the worst drought in a century with the help of massive relief from government.

Poor villages on the outskirts of Delhi have seen riots, with police pelted with stones by local people protesting at the severe water shortage.

Meanwhile, in the northern hill state of Assam, excessive reliance on contaminated ground water has resulted in an epidemic of fluoride poisoning. A report by the chief engineer in the state's public health department shows that many villagers in the tribal district of Karbi Anglong have been crippled for life.

At low levels fluoride strengthens the bones, but in the water pumped up by Karbi Anglong's tube wells it is present in quantities ranging from 5mg to 23mg per litre - the permissible limit is 1.2mg.

The report says the problem was detected last year in the Tekelangiun area of Karbi Anglong. More than 600 people out of 2,300 surveyed were found to be affected. The symptoms of fluoride poisoning are severe anaemia, stiff joints, pain, mottled teeth and kidney failure leading to premature death.

The council has sent water tankers to some of the affected areas, and 85 hand-operated tube wells with high fluoride content have been painted red to warn of the danger.

Karbi Anglong adjoins Shillong, which is often afflicted by drought despite being one of the wettest places in the world.

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