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