The sole water tank has not been cleaned for 15 years, there are no safai karamcharis who clear the surroundings, and a single tap serves the entire population of 1,100. Belwania in Uttar Pradesh offers the perfect recipe for a disease outbreak, and currently, diarrhoea is rampaging through the village.
Belwania (Sonbhadra), Uttar Pradesh
It was a disaster waiting to happen at Belwania, a village in Uttar Pradesh, and it did. Contaminated water, filth everywhere, a water tank that has not been cleaned since it was put up nearly 15 years ago, a handpump in disrepair, garbage piling up… Belwania in Ghorawal block, considered one of the most backward areas in Sonbhadra district, located about 340 kms south east of the state capital Lucknow, is in the grip of a diarrhoea outbreak.
More than 50 people in the village are suffering from the water-borne disease. Many of them had to be admitted to hospital while many others are recovering at home. A nine-month pregnant woman, Sahana, a resident of the village has died too due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea, said her family members. One of the most backward areas of the district, the village with a population of 1,100 is predominantly inhabited by adivasis and Muslims.
When Sahana took ill and her bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea wouldn’t stop, she was taken to the CHC at Ghorawal. “She died there. She was only twenty years old and she was full term pregnant. We lost her and the unborn baby,” Ashraf, her husband, told Gaon Connection, tearfully.
According to the villagers, on August 20 the first serious case of diarrhoea came to light when Bharat Lal, a 35-year-old adivasi, fell ill. He went to the local jhola chaap ‘doctor’ (rural medical practitioner) who treated him, but there was no improvement in his condition.
Meanwhile the number of people complaining of vomiting and diarrhoea increased and the jhola chaap could not handle so many patients and do anything more to contain the outbreak.
This is when the government machinery got active.
“On August 25, we got a call from Belwania’s gram pradhan about the rampant cases of diarrhoea there,” Devesh Pandey, medical officer community health centre (CHC), Ghorawal, told Gaon Connection. According to Pandey, a team was sent immediately to the village to conduct tests, and the more serious cases were shifted to the CHC, where currently eight patients are admitted and being treated.
“Some of those affected were treated at the village itself,” Pandey added. He however denied that pregnant Sahana died of diarrhea. “She did have diarrhoea, but she was improving. We deny that her death was caused by diarrhoea,” he stated.
According to the villagers, it is the water tank, the sole water supply source for a population of 1,100, which is responsible for the spread of diarrhoea in Belwania.
“There is filth everywhere. There is just one water tank that services the entire village of more than thousand people and it has not been cleaned ever since it was constructed fifteen years ago,” Shabbir Ali, a 36-year-old inhabitant of Belwania told Gaon Connection. “Only yesterday, [August 26] a few people turned up to spray bleach and so on on the roads, but the drains remain clogged and filthy. But, the cases of diarrhoea have not lessened, in fact they are going up,” Ali added.
The water from the 15-year-old dirty tank, which runs on solar energy, is used by the villagers for drinking, washing, etc. The water in the tank has never been treated, complained the villagers. Even to get that water people have to go and fetch it from a distance as there is no running water in their homes. Every few yards in the village, women and children sit outside their homes washing vessels in the same dirty water.
“There is only one water tank with one tap for the entire village population. Since it runs on solar energy, only when there is sunlight, the tank gives water,” said Guddu, a resident of the village.
“Had the authorities paid attention on time, this outbreak would not have happened. Since this is an adivasi basti, there is dirt everywhere” Shehnaz Bano, a resident of Belwania, told Gaon Connection. “Since the time the water tank has been set up, it has never been cleaned,” she added.
When Gaon Connection visited Belwania on August 27, it found fetid drains criss-crossing the village and piles of garbage everywhere. The stench was overpowering.
“Diarrhoea has spread because of the unhygienic and unsanitary conditions in the village. Villagers drink water from the dirty water tank and have fallen sick,” Usha Devi, the ASHA (accredited social health activist) from the village, told Gaon Connection.
Sant Kumar, gram pradhan of Belwania admitted that the water tank has never been cleaned. “It is true that no cleaning powder has ever been added to the water tank nor has it ever been cleaned,” he said, adding that he has only recently become pradhan. “No testing of the quality of water in the tank has ever been done,” he added.
According to residents of the village, nearly 50 to 75 people have been affected by the diarrhoea outbreak. “The health officials came to the village with ambulances to take the ill people to the hospital, many refused to do so as they feared they may be vaccinated for COVID 19, and be quarantined,” the gram pradhan told Gaon Connection. But, when things worsened in the village, they called for the ambulances themselves and went to the hospital, he added. “People are still getting admitted,” Sant Kumar added.
“We are going around the village distributing ORS and zinc tablets to the people,” Usha Devi, the village ASHA, informed. According to her, 45 people have been affected by the outbreak of diarrhoea. Pointing to the pools of stagnant water all around, the ASHA worker said, the village is so filthy that it is no surprise it attracts disease.
Gram pradhan Sant Kumar had the same thing to say. “It is the filth in the village that has caused the outbreak. But, he said he had organised people to get the surroundings cleaned up.
“We are advising the villagers to boil the water before they drink it, and things are coming under control,” Nem Singh, the chief medical officer, Sonbhadra, told Gaon Connection. Medical teams are going there every day to monitor the situation and advise the people to keep their surroundings clean, the CMO added. When Gaon Connection asked the CMO why the water in the village had not yet been tested or the tank cleaned, his response was: “There is a gram panchayat, there is a block panchayat, there is the gram pradhan… It is their responsibility to raise the matter and get the cleaning done.”