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Saturday 26 July 2014
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Dirty and dangerous

Rasheed Kappan, July 20, 2013, DHNS:

Caught in a messy spiral of garbage, drainage and rain, the City is a sitting duck as vector-borne diseases spread their deadly tentacles

This woman and her child from DJ Halli had to endure the full force of the rainwater mixed with sewage inundating the roads, as the stormwater drains are clogged.

The deadly medley of uncleared garbage, cesspools of stagnant water and unbridled flow of liquid waste into stormwater drains is a sure-shot recipe for disaster. Any day. Add rains, a pathetic drainage infrastructure and watch the City’s dangerous slide into complete chaos.

So when vector-borne diseases break out with dramatic regularity, should anyone be surprised?

 In close proximity to the supposedly protected apartments and gated communities of the City are spread out hundreds of slums. Hygiene is a strange word in these hellish settlements, as a dangerous concoction of diseases as varied as Dengue and Gastroenteritis, Cholera and Typhoid break out with typical ease. But when the water they consume is contaminated, when they lack even toilets and medical help is too distant, there is no reason to be shocked. For the agencies, isn’t it business as usual?


 Many areas of Bangalore haven’t heard of defogging or desilting. Public Health Centres are in poor shape, and even when dozens die of Dengue and Dengue Shock Syndrome, there is no sense of urgency. It took the District in-charge minister, Ramalinga Reddy, to crack the whip to get the health officers of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) get serious about controlling the rising spread of vector-borne diseases.

First-hand experience

A tour of areas such as KG Halli, DJ Halli, Tannery Road and neighbouring localities had convinced the minister that garbage management was a mess. Uncleared garbage and stagnant rain water had turned breeding grounds for mosquitoes and flies. If the minister had extended his tour to KR Puram, Mahadevapura and the other newly added BBMP areas, he ought to have also seen the dangerous transformation of vacant sites.

Vacant sites as garbage dumps

Spread across the revenue pockets, these vacant sites are mini garbage dumpyards. Mixed with rain water, these sites emanate unbearable stench, the putrid air precariously close to trigger disease outbreaks. Residents continue to dump garbage there, claiming that the BBMP door-to-door collection vans never stop at their gates. In Shastrinagar near KR Puram, for instance, the residents had complained to the local Palike health officer to get a particularly nasty vacant site cleared. When there was no response, they turned to the local corporator. Two weeks later, the site remains deadly as ever!

This, despite the minister’s clear instructions to the BBMP topbrass to task the zonal health officers with controlling malaria and dengue in the City. Larvae control methods had to be intensified and stringent action taken against health officers found not performing. Special attention had to be paid to slums, more so the hundreds of unauthorised ones, because the potential for outbreak of vector-borne diseases was much higher there.

The potential for spread of the diseases to middleclass households is also high. Since most domestic workers in apartments are housed in these slums, their well-being should apparently be of prime concern to all.

Strangely, this realisation seemed utterly lacking in Gubbalala, off Kanakapura main road, where hundreds of shanties are pathetically out of touch with any civilised form of existence. Most women here are employed as domestic maids in the skyscraper apartments that have mushroomed all around the place. Since the slums were clearly not legalised, the authorities have chosen to turn a blind eye.

Yet, the apartments couldn’t do without these slum-dwellers. Many were employed as cooks in flats that were a world apart from their tents bereft of even clean drinking water. “There are no toilets, no water supply, and no medical facility within a five-kilometre radius. When my husband, a coolie, fell sick after drinking contaminated water, I had to struggle to take him to a government hospital several kilometres away. There, no doctor was available till late in the night,” recalls Suma, a Gubbala resident.

Irregular trash clearance

If they are lucky, the slum-dwellers could spot a garbage truck once in 15 days. But that is not certain. Uncleared waste piles up all around, and gets scattered by the unchecked, drainless rainwater. Make-shift wells are dug at some spots to capture water that trickles out of holes that once connected to forgotten lakes.

A six-year-old boy had slipped into one of these wells and drowned the other day. The death was not even reported!

Poor Solid Waste Management (SWM) combined with poor hygiene monitoring could make these areas of neglect dangerously messy.

It was this realisation that forced BBMP Commissioner M Lakshminarayana to get the Palike health inspectors involved in SWM work.

The promise of zero-garbage

Early this month, the Commissioner had also unveiled a plan to make 22 wards zero-garbage zones, besides the 12 wards taken up under another project. Involving Residents’ Welfare Associations, garbage contractors and pourakarmikas along with the health inspectors, BBMP hopes this initiative will bear fruit.

Health monitoring is another issue. Attempts to play down the rising number of Dengue cases in the City has not gone down well with the citizenry. Unless certified as Dengue by a government laboratory, the deaths are not even recorded as such. BBMP records say there were only about 375 Dengue positive cases registered in the City and only one fatality due to suspected dengue. But private hospitals say the numbers are more.

To bring more clarity, the Palike is now toying with the idea of setting up a central dengue-testing lab. It is expected to come up later this year, as the BBMP officials say.

This lab, it is hoped, could also throw more light on the mysterious Dengue-like disease that has reportedly claimed many lives, particularly of children and adolescents in the City. Senior doctors at a top private hospital in the City had warned that the mystery had to be cracked fast, before it spiralled out of control.

VASANTHA,
Domestic worker, Gubbala:
“The closest government hospital is five kilometres away. If we are struck by Dengue or any illness, we struggle to reach there. They give us some injection. We either survive or just die. Nobody is bothered”

BALA NAYAK,
Resident, Kanakapura Road:
“There are hardly any toilets here. We go to the open fields to relieve ourselves. There is no drinking water. During rain, this place becomes a huge mess. But we have to manage somehow.”

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