Unexpected outcome: ‘Disinfected’ water claims four lives

More than 500 affected after tanker was cleaned by villagers on their own.

Junaid Aftab August 11, 2011


Seven-year-old Yusra died on Wednesday after remaining bed-ridden for five days in Chaprar village. The death toll from ‘poisonous’ water thus rose to four.

Others believed to have died from it were six-year-old Zobia, 13-year-old Afia and six-year-old Khushnood.

More than 500 people have so far been treated at a medical camp set up in the village by Al-Khidmat Foundation, a non-governmental organisation.

At least 28 people have been referred to the district headquarters (DHQ) hospital.

Several villagers told The Express Tribune that people had been reporting stomachache and other problems since last Saturday when village men had cleaned the water tank using potassium permanganate as disinfectant. They said villagers had decided to clean the tanker on their own after several calls to the tehsil municipal authority had been in vain.

The Basic Health Unit closest to the village lacked the medicines needed to cure the patients, the villagers complained. They said before the medical camp set up by the NGO, a few villagers had consulted the BHU but were referred to the DHQ hospital. “What is the use of having a health centre next to the village when we have to go all the way to Sialkot whenever there is a problem?” they asked.

Dr Aslam Butt, former medical superintendent at Government Sardar Begum Hospital, who has been treating patients at the medical camp, said so far more than 500 villagers had been given first aid. “The serious cases have been referred to the DHQ hospital,” he said.

DHQ officials said the patients were out of danger. They said most of them had been relieved of their stomachache after a few doses of medicines. They said except for the few who had severe swelling in the stomachs, the patients had been discharged.

Malik Pervaiz and Kausar Bibi, parents of one of the deceased children, Khushnood, said all of the entire family was unwell from drinking the water. “Khushnood’s condition deteriorated on Sunday night. She died before we could take her to a doctor,” they said. The other three children died at the DHQ hospital.

A Chaprar Union Council official rejected the suggestion that their negligence was to be blamed for the deaths. “The disinfectant is not poisonous. We too would have cleaned the tanker using the same disinfectant. Our guess is that the villagers used it in very large quantities,” he said.

He said the water should be safe for drinking now as the disinfectant’s effect got diminished.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.

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