Friday, 15 November 2019

Death By Cholera In Odisha Governmental Apathy

Updated: October 16, 2010 5:38 pm

Death has visited Odisha once again. The cholera epidemic that has hit the backward tribal districts of Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Koraput, Kalahandi and Malkangiri have left scores of dead. The official figure of 47 deaths is far below the real numbers. All these deaths have happened during the last two months.

                Diarrhoea, cholera, malaria and foremost, malnutrition are all acute diseases of the tribals of these poor districts of Odisha. The government of Odisha has not been able to differentiate these four sicknesses since they often appear all at one time or consecutively. When the rainy season starts, water is easily contaminated. As there is no accessibility to safe drinking water at home or in the village, people are easily and quickly infected. The poor and malnourished children are the most susceptible. They are disadvantaged due to a lack of basic facilities such as safe drinking water, electricity, and food.

                The government of Odisha has been denying starvation deaths or malnutrition while at the same time recognising heavy casualties of diarrhoea or cholera as ‘emergencies’. Malnutrition and starvation death remains the government’s responsibility, while diarrhoea and cholera are seen as sicknesses caused by natural disasters.

                After the epidemic was reported by the local press in late August, the Collector of Rayagada district visited the village and ordered drinking water to be supplied by tankers, which then stopped coming after just four days. As a result, the villagers were forced to drink water from pond and rivulets. When the situation went out of control, the administration, in a knee jerk reaction sent doctors, medicines, and food and setup emergency camps in the affected villages.

                In 2007, after the Cholera epidemic took a toll of 150 lives, the Chief Minister visited the Rayagada district and assured them that safe drinking water would be provided. The government invested a great deal of money to install tube wells to supply drinking water. The villagers found them to be flawed. The actual depth of the tube did not meet the standard on paper. Reportedly, the state government had spent nearly Rs 135 crores for sinking 65,680 tube wells between the years 2001 to 2006, most of which are now defunct.

                Many of the posts for doctors in health institutions in the districts are not filled. For instance, whereas 125 doctors were approved for the Rayagada district, 58 posts ( 47 per cent) are vacant as on 1/9/10. The CDMO was only too happy to furnish me list of the vacancies. By doing this, he could shake off a lot of responsibility. Even the doctors who are posted rarely reported for duty, simply because it is less developed and disadvantaged tribal area.

                The Odisha government has chosen to put its efforts into bringing in multinational foreign companies through Foreign Direct Investment in the name of development. The government has been allowing the companies to occupy tribal land and forests resulting in forced displacement and environmental disruption. Basic infrastructure, accessible to all, has not been built which would ensure fundamental rights to food, health and safe drinking water for all of the population. Without guaranteeing right to life, how can such development be meaningful and valuable in society?

                When a situation is predictable and preventable, it cannot be called an ‘emergency’. There is no ‘emergency’ that can be universally predicted. When death is curable and preventable, the government cannot call it ‘death caused by natural disaster’. There is no death caused by natural disaster that occurs every year unless government negligence creates the ‘emergency’ and ‘death by natural disaster’ in the first place.

                I had toured the area for a week and visited the affected blocks. There were so many visible signs of officialdom at work. The Asha workers were all neatly dressed in gowns. Flex posters with messages for cleaning hands, oral re-hydration etc were all over the place. The Anganwadi workers, who had probably not been seen in months were all over the villages. Makeshift ambulances (converted jeeps and ambassador cars) were seen wheezing on the bad roads, some of them carrying the sick. In all, it is all too little too late.

                I visited the villages of Khambesu and Lekapai both in Rayagada Block from where the fatalities were the most. In Tala Anchalbadi the only tube well was defunct. The villagers were using water from a nearby rivulet. A borewell rig had been stationed there for the last four days, but as a consensus of where the well should be sunk could not be arrived upon, work remained suspended.

                At the small four bedded PHC of Shikarpai, Dr Suman told me that he had treated 200 out patients and sent them away with medications. The same was the case with in the Tikiri Hospital. The sanitation awareness posters that have been put up now should have been done at the onset of the rainy seasons.


               Governmental Apathy


Death has visited Odisha once again. The cholera epidemic that has hit the backward tribal districts of Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Koraput, Kalahandi and Malkangiri have left scores of dead. The official figure of 47 deaths is far below the real numbers. All these deaths have happened during the last two months.

                Diarrhoea, cholera, malaria and foremost, malnutrition are all acute diseases of the tribals of these poor districts of Odisha. The government of Odisha has not been able to differentiate these four sicknesses since they often appear all at one time or consecutively. When the rainy season starts, water is easily contaminated. As there is no accessibility to safe drinking water at home or in the village, people are easily and quickly infected. The poor and malnourished children are the most susceptible. They are disadvantaged due to a lack of basic facilities such as safe drinking water, electricity, and food.

                The government of Odisha has been denying starvation deaths or malnutrition while at the same time recognising heavy casualties of diarrhoea or cholera as ‘emergencies’. Malnutrition and starvation death remains the government’s responsibility, while diarrhoea and cholera are seen as sicknesses caused by natural disasters.

                After the epidemic was reported by the local press in late August, the Collector of Rayagada district visited the village and ordered drinking water to be supplied by tankers, which then stopped coming after just four days. As a result, the villagers were forced to drink water from pond and rivulets. When the situation went out of control, the administration, in a knee jerk reaction sent doctors, medicines, and food and setup emergency camps in the affected villages.

                In 2007, after the Cholera epidemic took a toll of 150 lives, the Chief Minister visited the Rayagada district and assured them that safe drinking water would be provided. The government invested a great deal of money to install tube wells to supply drinking water. The villagers found them to be flawed. The actual depth of the tube did not meet the standard on paper. Reportedly, the state government had spent nearly Rs 135 crores for sinking 65,680 tube wells between the years 2001 to 2006, most of which are now defunct.

                Many of the posts for doctors in health institutions in the districts are not filled. For instance, whereas 125 doctors were approved for the Rayagada district, 58 posts ( 47 per cent) are vacant as on 1/9/10. The CDMO was only too happy to furnish me list of the vacancies. By doing this, he could shake off a lot of responsibility. Even the doctors who are posted rarely reported for duty, simply because it is less developed and disadvantaged tribal area.

                The Odisha government has chosen to put its efforts into bringing in multinational foreign companies through Foreign Direct Investment in the name of development. The government has been allowing the companies to occupy tribal land and forests resulting in forced displacement and environmental disruption. Basic infrastructure, accessible to all, has not been built which would ensure fundamental rights to food, health and safe drinking water for all of the population. Without guaranteeing right to life, how can such development be meaningful and valuable in society?

                When a situation is predictable and preventable, it cannot be called an ‘emergency’. There is no ‘emergency’ that can be universally predicted. When death is curable and preventable, the government cannot call it ‘death caused by natural disaster’. There is no death caused by natural disaster that occurs every year unless government negligence creates the ‘emergency’ and ‘death by natural disaster’ in the first place.

                I had toured the area for a week and visited the affected blocks. There were so many visible signs of officialdom at work. The Asha workers were all neatly dressed in gowns. Flex posters with messages for cleaning hands, oral re-hydration etc were all over the place. The Anganwadi workers, who had probably not been seen in months were all over the villages. Makeshift ambulances (converted jeeps and ambassador cars) were seen wheezing on the bad roads, some of them carrying the sick. In all, it is all too little too late.

                I visited the villages of Khambesu and Lekapai both in Rayagada Block from where the fatalities were the most. In Tala Anchalbadi the only tube well was defunct. The villagers were using water from a nearby rivulet. A borewell rig had been stationed there for the last four days, but as a consensus of where the well should be sunk could not be arrived upon, work remained suspended.

                At the small four bedded PHC of Shikarpai, Dr Suman told me that he had treated 200 out patients and sent them away with medications. The same was the case with in the Tikiri Hospital. The sanitation awareness posters that have been put up now should have been done at the onset of the rainy seasons.

                The remote hamlet of Gadaba in the Bissam-Cuttack Block could be reached only after walking a good three kilometers. The first cases were reported from this village. I met the headman who told me that there had been seven deaths, the government acknowledged only two.

                Only from ground zero is the real precarious situation seen. There is total failure on the part of the state government to control the spread of the epidemic. Many of the outlying and inaccessible hamlets are still beyond the reach of the district administration and news of more deaths are trickling in. The emergency measures taken by the government are poor and inadequate, considering the vast affected area. The official figures given out by the government belies the existing ground reality. More then 15,000 people in eleven blocks have been affected, even tough the official figures put the toll at 1,200.

                Despite the fact that the outbreak of cholera has been a repeated phenomena in the last few years, the government has taken no measures to prevent it. The situation is so grave and out of control of the state government that centre should provide all sorts of help so that the situation can be contained.

                What is a stark reminder of the anti-adivasi stand of the Naveen Patnaik-led government is that nearly all the affected and dead are poor tribals. The poor tribals are facing a double whammy as besides Cholera most of the areas have a high incidence of Malaria. There had been recent fatal cases of Malaria too. The Malarial Detection tests are being done by obsolete glass slides instead of antigen test kits that effectively detect the disease in its earlier stages.

                The government had no Calamity Plan in place. No contingency committee had been setup and the district administration was taken aback at the scale of the epidemic. The CHMO and ADMO and other senior officers including the Collector all went into a denial mode stating that all was well. Only when the local press highlighted the increased number of deaths, the administration sat up and took notice.

                A stark lack of empathy has been shown by the big industrial houses in the district who are discharging their Corporate Social Responsibility. Even tough there are big players like the JK Paper Mills, Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys, Aditya Aluminium, Vedanta etc none of them have set up any medical facility for the poor tribals. Even in this time of crisis none of the industrial houses of the area have come forward with any relief.

                No welfare programme is being effectively implemented in the district. None of the poverty alleviation programme benefits is reaching the poor tribals. Long-term-action plans should be made and properly implemented. Proper reviews should be done on the effectiveness and benefits of these schemes.

                The Biju Janata Dal, with the sheer misuse of official machinery could muster up thousands of people to the rally that they held after the Niyamgiri issue. The Congress leaders too ensured that Rahul Baba got a rousing reception by carting more then ten thousand persons to his rally. The plight of the poor tribals is akin to the dust that settles down after the helicopter fly off.

By Anil Dhir from Rayagada


The remote hamlet of Gadaba in the Bissam-Cuttack Block could be reached only after walking a good three kilometers. The first cases were reported from this village. I met the headman who told me that there had been seven deaths, the government acknowledged only two.

                Only from ground zero is the real precarious situation seen. There is total failure on the part of the state government to control the spread of the epidemic. Many of the outlying and inaccessible hamlets are still beyond the reach of the district administration and news of more deaths are trickling in. The emergency measures taken by the government are poor and inadequate, considering the vast affected area. The official figures given out by the government belies the existing ground reality. More then 15,000 people in eleven blocks have been affected, even tough the official figures put the toll at 1,200.

                Despite the fact that the outbreak of cholera has been a repeated phenomena in the last few years, the government has taken no measures to prevent it. The situation is so grave and out of control of the state government that centre should provide all sorts of help so that the situation can be contained.

                What is a stark reminder of the anti-adivasi stand of the Naveen Patnaik-led government is that nearly all the affected and dead are poor tribals. The poor tribals are facing a double whammy as besides Cholera most of the areas have a high incidence of Malaria. There had been recent fatal cases of Malaria too. The Malarial Detection tests are being done by obsolete glass slides instead of antigen test kits that effectively detect the disease in its earlier stages.

                The government had no Calamity Plan in place. No contingency committee had been setup and the district administration was taken aback at the scale of the epidemic. The CHMO and ADMO and other senior officers including the Collector all went into a denial mode stating that all was well. Only when the local press highlighted the increased number of deaths, the administration sat up and took notice.

                A stark lack of empathy has been shown by the big industrial houses in the district who are discharging their Corporate Social Responsibility. Even tough there are big players like the JK Paper Mills, Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys, Aditya Aluminium, Vedanta etc none of them have set up any medical facility for the poor tribals. Even in this time of crisis none of the industrial houses of the area have come forward with any relief.

                No welfare programme is being effectively implemented in the district. None of the poverty alleviation programme benefits is reaching the poor tribals. Long-term-action plans should be made and properly implemented. Proper reviews should be done on the effectiveness and benefits of these schemes.

                The Biju Janata Dal, with the sheer misuse of official machinery could muster up thousands of people to the rally that they held after the Niyamgiri issue. The Congress leaders too ensured that Rahul Baba got a rousing reception by carting more then ten thousand persons to his rally. The plight of the poor tribals is akin to the dust that settles down after the helicopter fly off.

Death By Cholera In Odisha

By Anil Dhir from Rayagada

 

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