DAYS AFTER it emerged that at least 16 people from tribal families in a small, remote village on a hilltop in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district died of water-borne diseases, after the primary source of their drinking water was contaminated, health and medical department staff on Wednesday held demonstrations on how to use water filters.
The Kondareddi tribals, ruled by superstitions and age-old beliefs that they should draw water only from ponds or hill streams, were not impressed, however, officials said. The locals reportedly took the water filters home but did not even unpack them. They had to be coaxed into using them, according to officials.
“These people believe in collecting water from streams or ponds on the hill for their daily requirements. They don’t even use borewells and handpumps that are present in the hamlet due to some superstition,” said Dr M Padma, Special Commissioner, Tribal Welfare, Andhra Pradesh. “Unfortunately, their water source got contaminated. We have provided four-litre water filters to each home; hopefully they will start using them.’’
According to reports, a dead animal in the pond from where the people drew their drinking water led to outbreak of a disease. While 16 people have been reported dead in two weeks from end-May, more than 30 others have been admitted in various hospitals with diarrhea and viral fever.
According to officials, the people of Chaparai, a tribal hamlet on a hilltop in Yarlagadda Ramavaram mandal of East Godavari, usually come down only to buy their ration from the weekly market, and they did not inform anyone about the deaths. Twenty days after the first death reportedly took place, an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) worker from the primary health centre (PHC) at Y Ramavaram went to the hamlet on June 19 to check on pregnant women and learnt about the deaths. She sounded the alarm.
Since then, dozens of teams — led by District Collector Kartikeya Mishra, health and medical teams and Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) officials led by Project Officer Dinesh Kumar — are camping in the area to ensure that the local people from tribal communities do not drink unfiltered or non-purified water. On Tuesday and Wednesday, medical teams administered treatment, including injections and medicines, to all residents as a precautionary measure.
“We are checking the feasibility of setting up RO (reverse osmosis, a water purification technology) plants in future in remote villages in the nine areas under ITDA,’’ Health Minister Kamineni Srinivasa Rao said.
Finding that there were not enough medicines at the health centres in the mandal to meet an emergency, the government has lifted the cap on storing medicines at PHCs, and with community health workers.