25 May, 2024


Drinking Water Contamination In Jaffna; Reactions & Responses

By C.V. Wigneswaran

C.V Wigneswaran

C.V Wigneswaran

Guru Brahma…

Hon’ Governor, Hon’ Ministers, Hon’ Members of the Provincial Council, Hon’ Chairmen of Piradesa Sabais, my dear officials and others!

Due to the technical nature of this meeting let me converse with you in the English language. I am thankful to the Hon’ Governor for his preliminary address. As a prelude to mine let me state hear clearly that I believe drinking water is right to life. We must on our part find a solution to any problem which affects this right because it seriously concerns the health and life of our people. We were elected by our people in large numbers hoping that we would look after their interests. People reposed trust in us. Therefore please be rest assured that we are as interested or more interested in the plight of our people as those demonstrating or reacting. We have not been complacent nor will we be. Yet let me start with a story.

At a Restaurant a cockroach suddenly flew from somewhere and sat on a lady. She started screaming out of fear. She started jumping with both her hands desperately trying to get rid of the cockroach. Her reaction was contagious as everyone in her group also got panicky. The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away. But it landed on another lady in the group. Now it was the turn of the other lady in the group to continue the drama. The waiter rushed forward to their rescue. In the relay of throwing the cockroach, it next fell upon the waiter. The waiter stood firm, composed himself and observed the behavior of the cockroach on his shirt. When he was confident enough, he grabbed it with his fingers and threw it out of the Restaurant. Now what happened? It was not the cockroach but the inability of the ladies to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach that affected negatively the ladies. More than a problem it is our reaction to the problem that creates chaos in our life. Reactions are always instinctive whereas responses are well thought out.

It is time that all of us responded to the Drinking Water Contamination Issue rather than reacted. We could thus glean a lesson from this story.

It would be prudent to assume that the assertion of oil contamination of some wells around the Chunnakam Power Station has some basis in fact and proceed from there.

I am told by those in the field of Hydrology that the first priority should be to assess the nature and seriousness of the contamination through what is known as a Preliminary Site Assessment (PSA). On a quick study we must ascertain historical data of the site and its surrounds, then move on to assess the size of the contaminated site and also the perceived source of contamination. Next we must study the historical land uses including agriculture. We are also expected to study the soil characteristics of the area as well as permeability and absorption rates. I believe we need to also study the nature of the shallow ground water aquifer going through available data on infiltration rates and flow rates of the shallow ground water. Physical parameters including data on the topography, rainfall and runoff, general catchment area and any surface flow data to assess the likelihood and extent of off – site transport paths for the pollutants or contaminants into water sources must also be studied. We are also expected to study all data on all other chemicals used on the site since a whole range of other Hydrocarbons including fuel oil, grease and others are likely to have been spilled or dumped into these sites.

If such study with the data referred to above in the Preliminary Site Assessment finds the area to be contaminated I am told the following steps need to be taken.

01. Do a detailed physical survey of the site as well as other related sites through sampling existing wells and also installing small diameter boreholes for sampling the soil and water underground for technical rigour and quality control purposes and depending on what that produces, take the next step.

02. The next step would be remediation of the contaminated site in line with Health Regulations and International norms. This can be achieved by in situ oxidation and/or treatment using appropriate materials removing the contaminated soil to a safe site destroying the contaminants there and then placing the contaminant-free materials at the site from which it was removed.

03. Thereafter we need to establish a network of small diameter bore holes to delineate and monitor the movement of the plume vertically and laterally to confirm that no further contaminants enter the ground water from the same treated site.

04. Of course such actions will require a sound funding commitment from International funding Agencies which might not be difficult to arrange, I am told.

I believe in this complete process internationally recognized as the steps to be taken generally in cases of this nature, we are still at the initial stage. We have sampled existing wells. What more has been done will no doubt be explained by the Experts’ Committee.

Now we have reactions, like the ladies in the story, from certain quarters. They say sampling was not properly done. They say instruments used are not appropriate or faulted. They say Experts have not been property selected. All these are being done even before the Final Report is out. They on their part have not furnished any alternative report. My response to such reaction is check the process adopted in taking water from wells for sampling, check the validity or suitability of the instruments used, check the academic backgrounds of each of those Experts selected. If need be those who question the legitimacy and the appropriateness of the sampling done and as to the suitability of the Experts’ Committee should have them placed side by side with those already obtained and observe any differences.

In fact I was given a copy of the results released by a Company in Colombo at the request of those who react. There was hardly any difference in the conclusions therein in comparison with the findings so far of the Experts Committee. Unfortunately that report has not been placed officially before us yet. I might say herein that I respect the professional integrity of our Academics who have come into this to help us and not to help themselves.

There are a few matters I would like to impress here.

Firstly we have already stated that it is not advisable to drink the water from the wells in the affected areas until a proper scientific conclusion is arrived at.

Secondly we would continue to make available water in bowzers for use in the affected areas.

Thirdly I would say that oil and grease in water is only a part of the problem. I am told there are nitrates, phosphates and other contaminants in the well waters used in the Northern Province which have been the consequence of the indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides in areas of intense agricultural cultivation. The consequences of the use of deadly weapons during the War on the land have still not been scientifically assessed. While we come to a decision on one aspect of pollution our failure to tackle other areas of pollution might lead to the type of kidney diseases experienced in certain areas and also to the cancerous outcome predicted in other circumstances. We must be circumspective, scientific and pragmatic in our approach. I am sure we would be.

Fourthly let me refer to an unfortunate statement recently made by our youthful Minister Hakeem. It might be noted here that neither the Honourable Minister nor his Ministry nor Department requested the NPC for any Reports concerning the Oil issue. If such a request had been made I would appreciate if a copy of such a communication is made available to me. My inquiries show no such letter was ever sent to us. If my information is correct then this statement of the Honourable Minister gives a political hue to a simple localised problem. I would sincerely ask all concerned not to make political capital out of the sufferings of our people.

I would now like to call upon any Member of the Experts’ Committee to state as to what steps they have so far taken and what more steps need to be taken hereafter. Thereafter we could discuss the several aspects keeping in mind the related matters I have enumerated above.

Let us not forget that all of us are interested in the collective health of our communities here, present and future. It is a duty cast upon each of us to formulate a sustainable solution to the issues at stake. Our Ministers have shown considerable interest in this matter and taken all possible precedent steps appropriate. It is because of the type of reaction that has set in recently that I have taken over collectively with our Ministers the task of finding the appropriate solution to the problem. All of you are part of us in finding such a solution. Please do not excise yourself from the responsibility and cast aspersions on some of us only.

May I therefore call upon every one of you to kindly respond rather than react in this instance. Thank you.

*Northern Province Chief Minister Justice C.V.Wigneswaran’s speech on Drinking Water Contamination Issue In Jaffna District – Meeting of officials and others at the Jaffna Kachcheri on 12/04/2015 at 9.30 am

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Latest comments

  • 3

    I disagree with Hon Chief Minister on several matters and want to response to his speech.

    The National Water Supply Drainage Board (NWSDB), which presently functions under the Ministry of Urban Development, Water Supply & Drainage is the principal authority providing safe drinking water and facilitating the provision of sanitation in the entire Island.

    NWSDB is almost a monopoly for the supply of safe drinking water throughout the country.

    Mr Rauf Hakeem is the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Ministry of Urban Development, Water Supply & Drainage.

    Hence the Chief Minister cannot find fault with Mr Hakeem for interfering on this subject.

    It is his responsibility to ensure that the people in the entire country are provided with safe drinking water.

    We all know that provision of drinking water is not devolved to the provinces and hence the Northern Provincial Council can play only a marginal role as representing the people in the Northern Province.

    However it is true that NWSDB handle some of these water schemes through the Local Authorities and in such an event the Provincial Councils also have a vital role to play.

    The other party involved in this issue is the Ceylon Electricity Board CEB under whose purview the Chunnakam Power station comes.

    Again CEB is also under the Government at the centre.The problem is between two central government institutions.

    Let them solve the issues

    The NWSDB has all the necessary expertise in these matters and it will be prudent on the part of the Chief Minister to make use of the existing set up.

    No doubt it is a valid argument as to whether drinking water should be a provincial subject or not. But this is not the time for polemics but to take quick action because we don’t know whether at least the health of some people had already been affected or not.

    Providing drinking water through bowsers may not be a solution since we do not know people had already been affected or not and whether the food we take have also already contaminated or not. We have to fix the responsibility on the government at the centre because both CEB and NWSDB are under the centre.
    Over to the Chief minister!

    • 4

      C.V. Wigneswaran –

      “The NWSDB has all the necessary expertise in these matters and it will be prudent on the part of the Chief Minister to make use of the existing set up.”

      Get to the attention of those who know how to address water and water pollution problems.

      CEB is interested producing Electricity,, and do not care so much about water, because it is somebody elses problem. Look at China, same problem..

      95% of the problem is solved by identifying the cause of the problem. The balance 5% is implementation, political or not.

    • 6

      Dear Sri,

      Before going into the details of responsibility in supplying drinking water, could you please say as how much fresh water is supplied to the people in Jaffna, especially in the affected areas and to what percentage of the total population resident there, by the NWSDB?

      Sengodan. M

  • 0

    Officials of one power station has not considered at all about the environment and had discarded oil for so long now it contaminated the ground watwer.

    Wiggie is making a big deal out of that.

    Get the officials to be environmentally contaminated.

    IF not shut the power station and ask people in the area to stay in the dark.

    • 0

      Jim Softly,

      You are not real. You must be a machine.

      Why don’t we shut all those people in a dark room and throw away the key?

      Or maybe we should watch you go one day, just one day without drinking water:)

      Oh by the way, Your pen name is rather contradictory to your philosophies. Jim BRUTALLY maybe… :))))))

  • 0

    This shows how spoiled the NPS politicians are.

    Why not ask guru Brahma.

    It may be his wish to make Tamils drink oily water.

  • 10

    Dear CM,

    The cockroach story may be relevant to many reactions of the NPC as well!

    However, it is advisable for the NPC to coordinate with the central government agencies and the national universities, including the Jaffna university, to find solutions to the problem. International expertise should be welcome. I am sure there are many such individuals among the Sri Lankann Diasoira who will be glad help. You have correctly identified the other sources of ground water contamination. It is upto the provincial ministry of agriculture to undertake an extension program to educate farmers on pesticide and fertiliser use and the dangers inherent in their misuse/overuse.
    Further, these activities should be closely monitored.

    Please make sure the people are kept informed of all developments. Long term solutions, including the Jaffna river project should be pursued with vigour, with the active participation of the central government. Incidentally, the water security is the issue of vital urgency to the people of the North.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

  • 6

    It is not an issue whether who looks into the pure drinking water problem at Chunnakam, whether it is the NWSDB or the Northern provincial council. The real problem is first to find out how this seepage of oil got into the wells in Chunnakam which are very deep wells. The wells in the North are for the purposes of drinking and for agriculture and that is main source for the people’ lives there. Was it a deliberate act of mischief and Why should it happen all of a sudden. It is regrettable that so far no action has been taken to find out for sure why oil and grease were found in the wells and why action has not been taken to clear the wells.
    Drinking water is right to life and homes as well which are now occupied by the Armed forces. If the armed forces in the North are removed most of the problems would be solved.

  • 2

    The problem has to be overcome scientifically – will take time to resolve despite it
    being handled under the NPC or the Central Govt., whilst the implementation should be
    under NPC supervision.

    In the meantime, should not some of the desalination projects for the Presidential
    Palace be diverted for regular bowser supply to the effected areas, if not done using
    this process? Desalination of sea-water appears to be the answer to save ground water
    resources for some time?

  • 3

    It may be a simple problem for people outside like the cockroach story, but it is a life and death problem for the people of the area.

    It is a crime to approach the issue with negative bias.

    Let us assume that the underground water is contaminated with oil, fertilizer and insecticide and seek solutions

    Whether real or imaginary, whether water is contaminated or not it is the burning problem for the people of the area.

    People cannot be treated like guinea pigs.

    What we need is a total solution, not a piece meal solution!

    What is required is a real scientific study, not random sampling using research methodology.

    Water should be tested by those who have the necessary expertise and experience.

    Even a brand new testing equipment has to be calibrated and the margin of error ascertained +or -! Before using it.

    Scientific method is scientific method.

    There should not be any compromise.

    You cannot play with the life of the people.

    Time is running out.

    Just go through the web.

    There are many widely used methods such as ,”dissolved air filtering systems” and “dissolved air floatation systems” used in the other parts of the world.

    People in the other parts of the world had already experienced similar problems and found solutions.

    why not share with them.

    Why reinvent the wheel!

    Why not seek international expertise. Seek funding from some big Donor Agencies and call for Expression of Interest!

    Let the NWSDB handle this as there are bound to do it.-Not any Tom,Dick and Harry!

    It is a SOS situation!

  • 0

    NWSDB, glad you have paid attention to the problem in the contaminated water in the NP, would like to draw your attention to the contamination in the western province too. Are you aware of this problem? Or is it a thing that you have allowed to help the business community to make money by selling water. I am sure you know this.

    Keep the population in the western province as your priority as the the work force who keep the entire countries wheels rolling lives in the western province.

    Wonder why the NWSDB took so long to recognize this problem?

  • 0

    I wonder why CM didn’t talk about the actions that he could still take against the restaurant management?

    (1) Giving warning to the management that no more cockroaches from that restaurant would be tolerated otherwise the license to run the business would be canceled.

    (2) Increasing the random checks for cockroaches.

    CM is trying to calm down the patrons. That is the first part.

    But blaming the victims would not resolve the root cause of the problem.

    What actions have been taken to avoid this problem again?

    In a long run roof top solar panels and windmills should provide electricity to houses in Jaffna.

  • 0

    Mr Sadagopan,

    Regarding your inquiry, I request someone from NWSDB, Valligamam North and South Pradesha Sabas to respond because water is supplied by these three agencies with the financial assistance from UNICEF

  • 0

    Chief Minister Wigneswaran,

    You are correct in saying “”our failure to tackle other areas of pollution might lead to the type of kidney diseases experienced in certain areas and also to the cancerous outcome predicted in other circumstances.”

    The member of the NWSDB who is in the Task Force to contain the Kidney Disease of multi-factorial origin is well aware that the Northern Province will also face the Kidney failures in few more years, with increased cultivation and the change in the life style. He cannot create panic by saying that the ground water in all areas with a high percentage of cultivated land will face the CKD failures within the next decade.

    If foreign investment is encouraged, we have the coast line from Chilaw to KKS to install desalination plants powered by wind energy. The concentrated sea water can be used to produce salt. NWSDB need to sell the desalinated drinking water at cost in all areas affected by water pollution, to safeguard the health of the people in such areas.

  • 3

    What’s the point of clean drinking water when the minds of Jaffna people are poisoned by Wigneswaran, TNA & Udayan?

    • 4


      Could you bring some water from Lourds, Yamuna, Ganges, Kaveri, Nile, Yangtze, Narmada, Kshipra, Godavari, Tamraparni,Vella Mullivaaikkal, Sepik, and a bag full of sand from Sarasvati for the purpose of exorcising odious “Off The Wall” and “Off The Cuff”.

    • 2


      Are you so dumb as to let the bag? Thanks anyway.

      Now we know the reason for all those lorry loads from the South suddenly carting dirty tap water filled in old plastic bottles and selling them for to make big profits in the North.
      You must be the master mind CEO of the power company at Chunnakam to have thought up the idea of leaking oil into the soil.

      • 0

        Read OTW. & ‘cat&’

  • 3

    It was not an eco friendly job done under CEB supervision.Heavy oil remnants are detected by national water board six months ago.Since solution is remote the people affected by this environmental terrorism shall entitled to seek assylum

  • 1

    May I suggest to the local authority in the first instance try to completely drain out a well and see how the oil and grease is seeping from where and from which direction.

    • 0

      Extremely sane suggestion.

      Not just you, Sellam, the Director of Environmental and Occupational Health also said the same thing. But, the learned doctor does not let those things come in the way of his diatribe.

  • 1

    It looks like people are trying to find fault with the CM. From what I have learnt in the media, I believe the following happened. NPC convened an expert panel consisting academics from Jaffna and other universities along with few others. A equipment was brought down from overseas. An officer went to US for training in handling the machine. Expert panel submitted an interim report and based on the report NPC Ministers issued a statement.
    Answer to few things can shed some light:
    1. Why did the minister came up with a statement about the water issue without contacting the NPC as NPC had been involved in the issue and the Minister is well aware what was happening. If the Minister claims he did not need to contact NPC and the he was not aware of the issue and the actions taken in the area and he relies only on his Department officials, then why should anyone worry about the Minister of the Central Government. We know the intention of the Central government and its agencies in letting NPC govern its own affairs.

    2. GMOA Jaffna also knew the above development but chose to issue a statement as soon as the NPC issued a statement. Is it because the NPC Minister of Health is also a doctor and that GMOA Jaffna is not happy with him? What is the hidden agenda of the GMOA Jaffna in issuing its statement.

    3. What is the real intention of the Diaspora and localised supporters of the former militant groups in this issue? They want to make sure that no solution to any issue existing or new should be fruitful by NPC. They oppose to the NPC and the TNA.

    4. What is the real motives of the people who undertook a hunger strike in front of the Nallur Temple? When the CM came to scene with his ministers and spoke to the people, youtube clip showed along with the conversation, few people were yelling that they voted for CM.
    When the CM asked for 6 days time, they wanted an immediate answer.
    Later ( may be next day) when the Governor and the GA visited them and gave an assurance that they will find an answer within 8 days, they all agreed and withdrew their hunger strike. Who were behind the people who staged a protest or who decided to go on strike and then to withdraw? Is someone or some group behind the scene working to bring down the CM so that they can have a dummy in the helm of CM?

    5. Modayas are on both sides.



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