Villagers in southern India forced to rely on poisoned wells have been given access to clean water as part of the HSBC Water Programme.

Families in Madhugiri, southern India, used to take all their water from deep wells containing high levels of fluoride. The toxic water had been causing fluorosis which can result in severe tooth decay, bone deformities and debilitating joint problems. Villagers were aware of the problem, but had no alternative water source.

HSBC has partnered with the BAIF Institute for Research & Development – Karnataka, a local non-governmental organisation, to help solve the problem and provide clean water to 1,000 households across nine villages.

The Sachetana Drinking Water Project is working with the community to build tanks which filter the rainwater and store it for later use.

Thimmakka, who lives in one of the villages about 140km north of the city of Bangalore, said: “The only water source was groundwater, and we had to dig nearly 1,000ft to reach it. The fluoride hidden within this water has caused a lot of health issues.” So far more than 430 families are using the tanks. The three-year project aims to improve the lives of more than 5,000 people.

Krishnappa, another villager, said: “We have two seasons when it rains in this region. Typically in one season we can accumulate 5,000 litres of water in our tank. We are a family of four and this is sufficient for six months before it starts raining again.”

The tanks take eight days to build using 1,500 bricks and up to 12 bags of cement and sand. The water is filtered through four layers of sand, stone, pebbles and charcoal. The collected water can be drawn using a hand pump. In addition to the rainwater harvesting units, HSBC is also helping to build about 90 farm ponds around Madhugiri to dilute the fluoride content in the water.

The Sachetana Drinking Water Project was nominated by local HSBC staff for inclusion in the five-year HSBC Water Programme. More than 800 HSBC employees from Bangalore have become involved in the project. They have helped to improve awareness among communities about basic water health and hygiene and the risks associated with drinking water with high levels of fluoride.

Pranav Shukla, programme co-ordinator, said: “Most community members associate their health problems with the water, and are generally aware of the hidden toxin – excessive fluoride in the groundwater. With families constructing their own rainwater harvesting structures, they are taking ownership to combat the problem themselves and in the process securing a healthy life for them and their families.”