As it emerged that on an average 30 gastroenteritis patients are being admitted to civic hospitals every day this month alone, Hindustan Times reporters travelled across the city to trace the root of the problem.
Gastroenteritis is a water-borne disease and there was evidence of water contamination across the city.
Last week, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) held a mobile medical clinic at Kurla. Of the 106 patients screened at the camp, more than 90 showed symptoms of gastroenteritis.
Dr Anuradha Pednekar, Shiv Sena corporator from Kurla who is a medical doctor herself, said: “Many of these patients display symptoms of gastroenteritis, such as diarrhoea and vomiting, but they are not always listed as gastroenteritis patients. Hence, the problem is much bigger than what the civic figures indicate.”
Pednekar practises at a clinic in her ward and said that more than half the patients she sees are suffering from water-borne diseases.s
From the information provided by residents and their corporators, it’s clear that contaminated water is one of the chief causes of the high incidence of the disease. Jaundice is common too.
So, what is causing the contamination? In South Mumbai, for instance, water supply pipelines pass through narrow house gullies — gaps between old buildings that are usually used to dump garbage — often parallel to sewage lines. Any leak in the water pipelines could contaminate the supply.
In L Ward, which covers Kurla, Chunabhatti and parts of Sakinaka, the problem is compounded by a large slum population. Pipelines pass alongside narrow drains filled with sewage.
In M Ward, which covers Govandi and Mankhurd among other areas, residents said the BMC showed eagerness in cutting off illegal connections but forgot to plug the holes where pipes connect to mains.
The result: illness and hardship.
In Kalbadevi, for instance, one family is forced to use the local swimming pool for bathing every day and bottled water for cooking.
In Juhu, people open hydrants’ valves to drain the contaminated supply before filling their tanks with cleaner water.
Executive Health Officer Dr Gourish Ambe said contamination wasn’t the only cause of illnesses. “Since it’s summer, people drink soft drinks sold by street vendors. The water they use is suspect. It’s not right to blame contamination alone,” he said.
Corporator Adolf D’Souza said the city was on the verge of a major disease outbreak and demanded that corporators be allowed to distribute water purifiers to the poor.
“We are playing with people’s lives. We cannot let people continue to fall ill and die as we sit back and think of the solution,” he said.
‘It’s time to stop the problem at its source’
In the last financial year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) received only 20 complaints of contaminated water from L Ward, which covers areas such as Kurla, Chunabhatti and parts of Saki Naka. However, on Saturday last week, a civic medical camp saw 106 patients being checked for various ailments. According to the doctors there, over 90 showed symptoms of gastroenteritis.
Now, locals doubt the authenticity of the civic data.
Dr Anuradha Pednekar, local Shiv Sena corporator, said: “For the past two weeks, this ward has been getting excessively contaminated water.”
Pednekar, a practising doctor, runs a clinic in the ward. “More than half the patients I see show symptoms of water-borne diseases, mostly gastroenteritis,” she said.
About 85% of the ward’s residents live in slums. Raju Jaiswal, a resident who has been suffering from diarrhoea for three days, said: “The water tastes weird. We boil it, but that’s not always possible.” Jaiswal was among those that visited the medical camp.
A visit to Bhabha Hospital at Kurla tells you more. Doctors privately admitted that cases of gastroenteritis are on the rise.
“Most patients require at least two to three days of treatment,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
“The BMC should do something to stop the problem at the source rather than give us medicines after we fall ill. What’s the point of taking such late measures?” said Jaiswal.
‘Contamination is an annual feature now’
Dr Sindhu Daftary is getting herself and her hospital at Juhu rain-ready. For years, like Daftary, Juhu residents have learnt to brace themselves for cases of water contamination to rise as the monsoon approaches.
Of the 822 water contamination complaints received in the last financial year by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), 149 were from K West ward, of which Juhu is part.
Residents said these figures are a lie. For more than a month, they said, Juhu has been receiving black water. Residents call it “cola water”.
“It has become an annual feature. As soon as the monsoon begins, we get contaminated water. This time, we are getting dirty water even before the rain,” said Daftary.
Some residents are dealing with it through an innovative use of fire hydrants. Corporator Adolf D’Souza explained how: “For the first 15 to 20 minutes, the civic water supply is dirty and has a foul smell. Locals simply open the hydrant valves and drain this contaminated flow. Once the contaminated water is out, they return to their houses to fill water.”
D’Souza said the problem was traced to a collapsed sewer line running parallel to a water pipeline. “The sewage entered the water. We had to change both pipelines,” he said. D’Souza wants the BMC to let corporators spend their funds on water purifiers.
“The rich can afford fancy purifiers, but what about the poor. If the BMC can’t improve water supply, it should allow us to provide purifiers,” said.
‘Forced to buy clean water’
In a bid to control water theft, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been swooping down on illegal connections in M East ward, which covers areas such as Govandi, Shivaji Nagar, Mankhurd, Mahul and Trombay. However, if locals are to be believed, this urgency has caused them a headache.
Locals say that at many places where illegal connections were cut, the BMC did not plug the holes where the pipes connected to the water supply. These gaps raise the chances of contamination.
Bainganwadi corporator Fazr-ul-Rehman Choudhari said: “I pointed out many such spots to officials. However, they aren’t plugging these gaps.”
Many like Husnyara Chand Ali, who does not have a water connection, have to depend on others for their supply. “For non-drinking and cooking purposes, we buy water from those who have a connection. We spend Rs 20 to Rs 40 every day. For everything else, we use water from local wells,” she said. The well water, she said, was dirty and it stinks.
The M East and M West wards fare badly on human development indices, according to the United Nations’ Human Development Report of 2009. Since these areas have large slum populations, most water lines pass through narrow lanes that also have sewage lines.
“The problem becomes worse when the old pipelines are on the verge of corrosion,” said Shivaji Nagar corporator Ayesha Shaikh.
‘We can’t use this water to cook or bathe’
Every day for the last month, Mahendra Jain and his family of three have been going to the Pran Sukhlal Mafatlal swimming pool at Charni Road for their daily baths. It may sound odd, but Jain is anything but amused. The water supplied to his building, Krishna Niwas in South Mumbai’s bustling Kalbadevi, is brownish-black; bathing in it could make his family ill.
“We stopped using this water for cooking a long time ago. But we used it for bathing and washing utensils. However, the water smells so bad now that if we bathe with it, people would refuse to even sit next to us,” said Jain.
Kalbadevi is part of C Ward, which covers areas such as Bhuleshwar, Dhobi Talao and Chira Bazaar. Of the 4,351 complaints of water contamination the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) received in the last financial year, 1,176 — almost a fourth — were from this ward.
Take a walk around Krisha Niwas and the statistics will cease to surprise you. The water supply pipelines enter the building through a house gully filled with rotting garbage and sewage. Any leak in the pipes would result in contamination. Most house gullies in the area are in the same state.
Corporator Janak Sanghavi: “Of the 1,700 house gullies in C Ward, 900 are in my ward alone. The BMC should clean them regularly, but only a few are cleaned.”
Civic officials said entering these house gullies was difficult. A Solid Waste Management Department official said on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media: “It’s the residents who throw the garbage in the first place; no one tells them anything. There are times when garbage is thrown on us as we enter the gullies.”
Sanghavi said the BMC needs to do more. “First, the BMC supplies us with less water. Then, they add to our woes by doing nothing about the contamination. The solution is to regularly clean the gullies and inculcate civic sense in people.”
Case studies by Kunal Purohit