Borewell deaths: How technology could help save young lives
The reason why children die in these situations is the lack of oxygen at the bottom or a delay in the rescue operation.
Despite an 80-hour long effort, three-year-old Sujit Wilson, who fell into a farm borewell near his house, in Nadukattupatti, near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, could not be rescued. Only the decomposed body was recovered from a depth of 88 ft on Tuesday.
Four months ago, it took nearly 100 hours to pull another boy out a 150ft deep borewell in Punjab. He too was dead.
These two were among hundreds of toddlers who perish in borewells in India every year. The most often cited reason for such deaths is the lack of a timely response and the required technology.
In Wilson’s case, a rescue team had employed a robot to pull him out. But the width of their robot, which had shown success in several instances before, was incompatible with that of the boy’s head. By the time they adjusted, the boy had slipped further deep, said a report.
Here we are looking at existing technologies that are being used for rescuing children from borewells, as well as innovations in universities that might help us in the future.
How are children rescued in India?
Generally, when a child falls into a borewell, we dig another hole parallel to the main hole with a bigger diameter. These two borewells are then connected at the bottom using a tunnel and then the child is rescued through the broader hole. This should be done fast before it gets too late for the child.
The reason why children die in these situations is the lack of oxygen at the bottom or a delay in the rescue operation. The delay might be in bringing the equipment and digging the hole or the late arrival of the emergency services.
What are the methods that can be used to make the process faster?
In 2014, students from a university in Bengaluru developed a robot called The Borot. This device is fitted with a spy camera on its arm. This helps in sending the live feed of the child trapped in the borewell.
It has sensors that can detect poisonous gases and also the movement of the child. Once it detects movement in the chid, it will inflate a balloon beneath the child to stop further sinking.
The 'Madurai Rescue Team':
Another successful story of a new technology that has saved several lives is that of the rescue team that managed to rescue three-year-old G Harshan of Kuthalaperi village in just 90 minutes.
The kit used by the team weighs 5kg and also contains oxygen, a high-resolution camera, and arms to take out a child. But the team could not be successful in Wilson’s case.
Many other research papers in India show devices similar in design to rescue children trapped in borewells.
What do we need to consider?
The best device would be the one that requires the least amount of time to set up and start the rescue operations. Also, it should safely take the child out of the borewell.
As there are arms and other mechanical parts attached to these devices, they might hurt the child while the rescue operation is in progress.
As such borewell deaths are common in India, the government needs to recognise one of these devices and plan to make it widely available to rescue teams in the most affected areas.
We also need to punish those who leave these borewells abandoned and open. Implementing the law that punishes the culprits will reduce the number of casualties and also save a lot of effort.
Looking at the data, according to an NCRB report, around 50 people died by falling into a borewell in 2014.