Prasad Joshi | TNN |

Maharashtra villages can show world how to beat Zika
TEMBHURNI (Nanded district): At a time when the world is reeling under an outbreak of the Zika virus, several villages in Nanded district of Maharashtra have successfully drowned out the mosquito buzz with underground soak pits that suck in waste water.

The four-foot-deep pits dug behind every house in the villages are making the usually overflowing open drains redundant, thus depriving mosquitoes of their breeding grounds. The project has roots in a decade-long successful experiment in Tembhurni village in Himayat Nagartaluka. Adopting the Gandhian principle of shramdaan (voluntary contribution for a cause), sarpanch Pralhad Patil carried out construction of soak pits behind every house. When they began, Patil recalls, government funds were hard to come by . Villagers then decided to pool funds. The pits are covered with a cement pipe that has four equi distant holes at the top. A layer of sand and fine gravel is spread under and around the pipe to allow the water to percolate slowly into the ground.

“Within a year of all houses getting the new soak pits, the village became free of mosquitoes,” says Patil, who gave up a career in engineering in the 1980s to carry out sustainable development in his village.

The step assumes significance against the backdrop of dengue, malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases plaguing Maharashtra. The project had an unexpected additional benefit.The village, which was heavily dependent on tankers for water supply till 2002, became self-sufficient after half-a-dozen hand-pumps in different parts began spewing water .

“Water flowing into the 200 soak pits gradually drains down into aquifers, thereby recharging the groundwater . Our village hasn’t faced water scarcity in recent years,” Patil says. Nanded zilla parishad chief executive officer Abhimanyu Kale stumbled upon the Tembhurni project in 2014 and decided to replicate it across the district.

Funds from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) are being used to construct the soak pits, which the locals call magic pits. “We set up these pits using Rs 2,000 for each model under the scheme,” says Kale.

The effect of the pits on mosquitoes was evident in Kamlaj village in Mudkhed taluka, where a TOI team stayed overnight. The all too familiar buzz was absent from 11pm till dawn on the terrace of a centrally-located house. The drains are dry and clean. As a result, stagnant water around houses, on streets, and choked drains has become a thing of the past. The zilla parishad plans to achieve similar results in over 1,300 villages of the district.

The pits have also affected the villagers’ social lives.Draupada Wadvare, a homemaker in Dhanyachi wadi, a hamlet in Hadgaon taluka of Nanded, now limits her visits to her mother’s place to a couple of days. Wadyavare’s village is virtually mosquito-free, with all 133 houses equipped with the magic pits, but her mother’s village hasn’t implemented the plan. “I feel my children are safer at their own home,” she says.

Scientific studies in the area have also supported the project’s claims. Nanded district health officer Balaji Shinde says the transmission rate of mosquito-borne and waterborne diseases has decreased by nearly 75%. “We have done several rounds of surveys through the villages, but have not been able to find mosquito-breeding sites,” he says.