By Alka Pande
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Lucknow, India Despite years of global commitments to improving access to clean water and adequate sanitation, more than 7,000 children below the age of five years old still die every day across South Asia.
Under the umbrella of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as well as part of the U.N.’s Millenium Development Goals, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bhutan have committed to improving access to clean drinking water and sanitation for their people.
The promises and resolutions passed by these nations have really not materialised, with every second person forced to defecate in the open and every eighth person drinking contaminated water. “About one billion people in South Asian nations do not practice improved sanitation and remain exposed to severe health risks, besides adding to environmental pollution,” says Mustafa Talpur, regional advocacy and policy advisor for WaterAid in Pakistan.
“Similarly, over 211 million people in South Asia do not use improved source of drinking water and stay vulnerable to a number of diseases, especially diarrhoea,” he adds. Agencies like the World Health Organisation estimate than for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, countries will save $9 in costs related to sickness, death caused by diseases due to poor water supply.
Last year, the World Bank said that a lack of toilets and poor hygiene practices in India cost Asia’s third largest economy almost $54 billion every year. Premature death, treatment for the sick, wasted time and productiveity as well as lost tourism revenues are the main reasons for such huge losses.
Yet this has not spurred South Asia countries to take the issue seriously enough. “Of the eight South Asian nations, only Sri Lanka and Maldives have done parallel progress in the water and sanitation sector,” says Ashutosh Tiwari, country representative for WaterAid in Nepal.
“In the rest of the nations — India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bhutan — sanitation facilities are much lower than facilities for water,” he adds.
The region is now gearing up to discuss the importance of improving water and sanitation at the South Asian Conference on Sanitation or SACOSAN expected to be held in Colombo in April.
KHULNA: The victims of cyclone Aila, particularly women and children living in the worst affected coastal belts of the southern districts of Khulna and Satkhira, are suffering from various diseases due to the lack of safe water and sanitation facilities.
The situation has worsened with the advent of winter as cold-related and water-borne diseases, like scabies and dysentery, have spread fast.
Many of the affected people say that they are not receiving any community-based medical facilities from either the government or non-government organisations.
Hundreds of victims from the upazilas of Koyra and Dacope in Khulna and
Shyamnagar in Satkhira, which were devastated by Aila in 2009, continue to live in roadside shacks.
‘At least seven families here have to share a single latrine…Many women are suffering from infection of the uterus, but they are too shy to tell anyone. We neither have any MBBS doctor nor any woman physician at Koyra sadar whom we can consult,’ said Anwara Nasrin, 40.
She said that people in some affected areas have to travel a long way to collect drinking water from tube-wells, and they depend on saline water for bathing and washing their household utensils.
Anwara, a midwife who is also involved in social welfare activities in the village of Madinabad, said that it is mostly women and children who are exposed to water-borne diseases as the men spend most of their time working either in the Sundarbans or in other remote areas to earn much-needed money.
‘I itch all over, I cannot sleep at night…My stomach frequently gets upset. For the last few days I have been suffering from dysentery,’ said Aiman, 70, of Madinabad.
She said no one had come to them with medicines and that the upazila health complex was far away from the village.
Anjuara, 30, a housewife in the same area, has been suffering from dysentery for over a month.
She told New Age that her husband very often gets infected with diarrhoeal diseases, and that her 11-year-old girl child Suraiya was suffering from skin disease.
Shahar Ali Sardar, 69, of Koyra sadar said he had been suffering from dysentery for the last six months.
Koyra upazila’s health officer Emdadul Haque said that the situation was not as alarming as the people say.
‘We are aware that women and children are exposed to various diseases, particularly scabies and dysentery, with the advent of winter. We will send medical teams to the affected areas so that the diseases do not become an epidemic,’ he told New Age.
He said that the local administration was telling the affected people not to use contaminated water.
The lone 31-bed upazila health complex of Koyra is supposed to deal with a population of over three lakh and is located at Jaigirmahal, 15 kilometres away from the upazila headquarters. There is neither any gynaecologist nor any woman physician to treat women patients at the hospital.
Koyra, a remote upazila isolated by rivers, is at least 100 kilometres away from Khulna city.
Emdadul said that the use of saline water was not directly responsible for infection of the uterus.
‘As long as saline water is not contaminated, it is not unsafe for washing. But it is true that these women lack hygiene and sanitation facilities,’ he said.
‘Women with gender-based diseases feel too shy to come to the health complex as there are no women doctors here. Still, around 15 per cent of the women patients who come to us complain of female complications which include uterus infection,’ Emdadul added.
A number of women and girls in the area said that they feel too shy to use latrines as all of them are on the roads and embankments where people are always moving around.
‘Around 50 to 60 people are using one latrine. We have to wait in the queue to get a chance to use the latrine in the morning…Excrement from the latrines is contaminating water around the embankments where we bathe, wash cloths and cook food,’ said Hasina, 45, who lives in a makeshift shed in Koyra sadar.
Many of the children and elderly persons are also suffering from pneumonia due to the biting cold on the roads and embankments.
‘I have found many women suffering from infection of the uterus,’ said Nila Bati Sana, who works as a community mobiliser for a local non-government organisation. ‘They do not have proper sanitation facilities.’
The principal of Jobeda Khanam Mohila College, SM Aminur Rahman, said that about 50 per cent of the students remain absent, which he partly attributed to the ill-health suffered by the children in Koyra.
When his attention was drawn to the Aila victims’ difficult situation, food and disaster management minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, who is also responsible for overall coordination of the rehabilitation work in the affected areas, said that the authorities could not take rehabilitation measures as the repair of the embankments has not been completed in time.
He, however, said that the rehabilitation would begin as soon as repair was completed, which he hoped would be by January.
Md Abul Bashar, the upazila nirbahi officer of Koyra, said that the local administration had already sent teams to find out the areas where people were being infected with diseases during the winter.
Shyamnagar upazila’s health officer Nazrul Islam said that there is a community clinic in the isolated union of Gabura where many people at present are suffering from diarrhoeal diseases. ‘The situation is under control.’
He, however, said there was no doctor at the clinic and four health assistants were running it.
According to official records, around 1.5 lakh people belonging to 48,000 families were worst affected in Dacope, Koira, Ashashuni and Shyamnagar when Aila ravaged the south-western coastal areas on 25 May, 2009
By Amar Guriro
KARACHI: A strange disease has spread in the coastal belt of Karachi paralysing the lower limbs and some times the arms and other body parts of the victims, the majority of whom are children.
Earlier, there was an outbreak of a similar disease in Achhro Thar (White Desert) of district Sanghar and other areas of the Tharparkar desert. Now this disease has taken its toll in the Rehri Myan Goth in Bin Qasim Town, where office-bearers of the Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum (PFF) claim that there are about 200 victims, most of them children.
The residents of the area told this scribe that the victims of the disease are first afflicted with fever for a few days and then their lower limbs and sometimes the arms and other body parts are completely paralysed. Though this disease remains unidentified, geologists contend that it is caused due to the consumption of fluoride-contaminated underground water. Experts have also expressed fear that the disease could engulf the entire coast of Sindh. The victims mostly blood-related, and in some cases, there are around six patients in the same family.
Muhammad Hussain, a resident of Rehri village, is a fisherman who has braved many cyclones in the Arabian Sea during his fishing voyages, but is completely helpless to do anything for his four children, who have been paralysed. His three sons, Nazir, Dilbar and Mubarak, and a daughter Hajira, were normal, but they suddenly feel victim to the disease.
“My first child developed a fever one day and within a week, he was paralysed,” he said narrating his woes. “First we thought it’s weakness due to the fever, but later we realised his lower limbs were paralysed.” He took his children to several doctors and also sought the help of faith healers, but all went in vein. Sami Memon of the PFF said his organisation has compiled a list of the victims’ names and most of them are children. “We have a list of about 173 children affected by this disease, but there are several other victims whose names we could not collect,” he said.
According to the PFF list, some of the victims include fisherman Esa, who is suffering the same ailments following the paralysis of his four daughters Fatima, Sheraan, Bhaan and Ameer Bano; Aamnat, daughter of Ismail; Hyder Ali, son of Allah Dino; Ibrahim, son of Mehmood; Hussain, son of Hassan Ali; Nazia, daughter of Ali Hussain, Mohammad Noor’s son Moosa and daughters Hawa and Nadia; Hakeem, son of Abdullah; Azam, son of Umar; Usman, son of Ismail, and Abdul Hussain, son of Ahmed Ali.
When this scribe contacted Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed for his comments on this issue, he was not available, however his PRO said the issue does not come under the jurisdiction of the provincial health department, and the CDGK EDO (health) might be the right man to contact. When this scribe asked him how this matter that concerns the lives of so many children does not come under the jurisdiction of the Sindh government, he suggested contacting the provincial health secretary.
But that proved to be anything but useful as Sindh Health Secretary Hashim Raza Zaidi simply refused to comment on the issue. This wasn’t surprising since the health department avoiding talking to media personnel over such issues has become a routine practice. CDGK Health Group of Offices Executive District Officer Attur Das Sanjnani claimed that the issue was nothing more than media-created hype. “There are just four children of a family residing in Ibrahim Hyderi whose lower limbs have been paralysed,” he said.
“We have conducted a complete survey of these areas and found that the disease is hereditary and for such diseases, there is no treatment even in advanced countries.” The residents of the area told this scribe that since the creation of Pakistan, the people living in the coastal belt of the city are yet to receive basic facilities such as healthcare, educational institutes and above all drinking water supply schemes.
“Most of the residents of Ibrahim Hyderi, Rehri Goth and others areas of the coastal belt of the city are consuming the underground water, but no one knows about the quality of this water,” said PFF’s Sami Memon.
“It could possibly be the increasing level of fluoride in the underground water that has caused this mysterious disease,” said renowned geologist and faculty member of the Department of Geology, University of Karachi, Prof Dr Shahid Naseem. Dr Naseem has visited about 400 small villages of district Umerkot and other parts of Tharparkar to acquire water samples for laboratory testing.
According to his findings, the underground water had high levels of fluoride. Earlier, this scribe reported the outbreak of a similar disease in Achhro Thar in district Sanghar where around 17 people had dead in only one village and several others were paralysed.
“The disease has not only spread in Karachi, but perhaps spread along the entire coast of the province and also in Balochistan up to Iran, as we have received reports of the same disease affecting people in Quetta and a small village on the Iranian border,” Dr Naseem said.
“We have to conduct a detailed survey of the coastline to learn more about this disease.” Dr Naseem said arsenic contamination was first reported in Punjab, but now the problem has moved on to Sindh. “The contamination of underground water with both arsenic and fluoride could possibly be the cause of this disease, but only a detailed survey can confirm this,” he said.