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Pakistan

Brackish, contaminated underground water: Disease torments villagers irrespective of age and gender

By A. B. Arisar

24th February, 2011

UMERKOT, Feb 23: Five out of the 149 worst-afflicted skeletal flourosis patients have lost all hopes and are praying to get relief from the excruciating pain, even, if it were in the form of death.

The poor souls consumed fluoride in quite a big quantity in village Samoon Rind some 140km away from Umerkot, near India-Pakistan border.

Skeletal fluorosis is a complicated illness caused by the accumulation of too much fluoride in bones. In first two stages a patient doesn`t feel any symptoms but changes take place in the body – first biochemical abnormalities in blood and then bone composition.

Later, histological changes in bones begin. Symptoms include pain in bones and joints; burning sensation, prickling and tingling in limbs, muscle weakness, chronic fatigue and gastrointestinal disorders with reduced appetite. Finally, extremities become weak and moving of joints difficult thus crippling the patient.

Research of 27 parameters of each water sample proved 89 per cent underground water in Thar, including four talukas of Tharparkar and one desert taluka of Umerkot, was not fit for consumption.

The WHO standards say that 1.5mg/litre fluoride is safe but Tharis are consuming 32mg/litre.

The Public Health Engineering Department, Works and Services Department, Thar Coal Authority and Law Enforcement Agencies are involved in provision of better water facilities in Thar but unfortunately these authorities have no water analysis facility and data to resolve this issue with intensity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines right to clean water as a human right to which Pakistan National Drinking Water Policy also agrees. The provincial water policy is in the offing therefore it is suggested to address fluoride contamination issue on priority.

Dawn correspondent, accompanying a team of doctors from the Dow University of Health Sciences when reached the village with a population of 3,500 observed that all, irrespective of age and gender, were short in height along with deformed bones making it difficult for them to perform their daily chores. People as young as 25 and as old as 60 were all walking with the help of sticks.

The people settled in Thar in 1973 and since then were consuming underground brackish and contaminated water. Some five people, including four men and a woman passed away last month after remaining paralysed for last 20 years. They were Hasil, Nabi Bux, Muradan, Umed Ali, Allah Bachayo and a female whose name couldn`t be known.

Saleh Rind, younger brother of Saleh Rind said that the family took care of the deceased for 18 years and he died only last week. A Muslim burial could not take place as prolonged paralysis had turned the deceased knees vertical.

The living can`t offer their prayers as it is difficult for them to even sit.

“Our three generations were paralysed and we fear for our children more,” they said and lamented that even the livestock, which was their only source of income, were suffering from flourosis.

A lucky Qadir Bux, 35, still able to walk had spent Rs1,100 on medications and another Rs800 on transport to get some relief from joint pains from Dr Chaheno of Umerkot.

However, pointing towards his 17-year-old son, Piyaro, he said that what the boy would do in my age when he is so weak at this tender age.

The teeth of a patient turn yellow and gradually these are lost and by age 15, they begin feeling joint pain and at the age of 60 one is unable to move out of a bed.

Though, villagers harvest rain water but that too, is not safe as it develops bacteria after a month.

The authorities have made available pipeline facility from the canal till the time fresh water was not supplied to the area which is 15km away from village Wavri.

The government of Asif Ali Zardari got dug six wells which were as poisonous because of the contaminated underground water, said a villager adding sarcastically that digging further wells is next to advocating suicide as it would not mitigate their suffering because water quality was same.

He pleaded to the authorities to provide them alternate energy source or fuel for running the Reverse Osmosis plant which though was installed by a philanthropist but was being denied fuel by the TMA Chhachhro. Digging of wells was just a political bribe, he blasted.

Sahti, a widow lost her husband to the disease some 10 years ago and now, she herself stays in a coned position but is able to walk five to ten steps. There is nobody to support or help her as she doesn`t have a son.

She feels living like a buried person by remaining in pyramid position, be it summer, winter or autumn.

Another woman, Sami, recalling her young age said that she used to fetch three water pots for drinking purpose but that precious commodity instead of quenching their thirst clipped their lives. Dawn

Yet, another woman Hani, came crawling on hot sand to share her ordeal with . The sight was pathetic and foretold the miseries she may have endured during her life. She said that their younger generation was unable to find labour because of the dearth of rain and thus were facing the double onslaught of economic crunch.

It`s an irony that people make promises to forget as was done by the Speaker Sindh Assembly Nisar Ahmed Khuhro last year, said Sono Khan Rind. “Khuhro promised at a conference in Karachi that one month`s salary of MPAs would be donated to the ailing villagers.”

TMO Chhachhro, Amir Bux Junejo said that the taluka council was providing funds only for the construction of wells and nothing for any other water supply schemes.

 Source: Dawn

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About WashMedia-South Asia

WashMedia-South Asia is a group of South Asian journalists working on water, sanitation and hygiene issues. Theses journalists are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

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