The Egyptian Center For Housing Rights |
Typhoid Pestilence Threatens Damas
In the context of the railway inferno and the collapse of buildings, it seems that Egypt's poor are destined to suffer from a chain of other 'natural' calamities. Residents of Damas, a village in Dakahliya Governorate, are expected to be the subject of another chapter of this endless tragedy, which, albeit conforming with the general context of victimizing the poor, restores to our memory the heinous horrors of the Middle Ages. In the epoch of globalisation and high-tech innovations, villagers of Damas are hit by the Typhoid infection, which, according to the statement of the Minister of Health, Dr Mohammad Awad, to Al-Arabi Weekly, threatens to become a disastrous epidemic.
The news of the disaster first appeared in last March, when several state-owned and opposition newspapers noted that eleven villagers were infected with typhoid, and that rumours pointed to drinking water as the source of the disease. Local authorities in the Dakahliya Governorate, however, denied any possibility that drinking water was the source of the plague and claimed that hand-driven pumps in the villagers' houses, used for pumping underground water, were responsible for the spread of typhoid.
The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights, therefore, formed a fact-finding mission, which made two visits to the Damas village, on 30 March and 6 April 2002. The ECHR fact-finders reached the following conclusions:
II. Infection is confined to a single area in the village: the North-East of Damas.
III. According to the statements of the villagers and physicians, there is an enormous number of victims, which amounts to 423 people, 75% of whom are children less than 10 years old.
IV. The local authorities' approach to the disaster is dominated by the police mentality. Fact-finders noted an intensive deployment of security forces throughout the village, a blackout and suppression of information, and even an outright denial of the existence of a disaster. Such practices, of course, hindered the activities of the fact-finding mission intended to identify the real causes and scale of the disaster.
V. More importantly, however, the authorities' obsession of stability protection led them to distribute the victims on several hospitals in other municipalities throughout the country, with others receiving treatment at home. Infected villagers were distributed on hospitals in Damas, Mit Ghamr, Al-Mansoura, and Cairo so that local authorities could hide the fact of a plague and, consequently, their responsibility for the disaster.
VI. Furthermore, although medical diagnosis and analysis proved that the victims were infected with Typhoid, doctors received strict orders to diagnose the illness as 'a fever under examination', preventing them of revealing the nature of the plague (the majority of the cases in the state-owned hospitals received such a diagnosis).
VII. In the same context, local authorities tried to escape their responsibility by putting the blame on the victims who used pumps and underground water; and the governor of Dakahliya passed a 'decree' prohibiting the use of these pumps. Later, however, they blamed peddlers, particularly those selling ice cream and milk, for the village catastrophe.
Sample (1) was taken from the official water supply in an area where the disease does not exist.
Sample (2) was taken from the official water supply in a house located in the plagued area. Sample (3) was taken from the underground water pumped by the pump of a house located in the plagued area.
Sample (4) was taken from a pump of a house where more than three infections occurred.
On 29 March, the samples were sent to a laboratory for examination and the result was negative. Examination confirmed that none of the four samples contained a trace of the Salmonella typhii that causes the typhoid fever.
The result of the examination, however, dropped more shadows of confusion over the tragedy of Damas. Although it proves that the spread of typhoid has no relation with the village's drinking water, it provides no explanation for the disaster. The plague, thus, turned to be a mysterious time bomb that may unexpectedly explode, victimizing scores of innocent and poor villagers. While the spread of epidemics, characteristic of the Middle Ages, amongst the poor at the beginning of the Third Millennium represents a human tragedy, the authorities' neglect and police mentality turn the tragedy into a horrible farce. Under the slogan of order and stability, these authorities violated the most basic human rights of the victims. They denied the right to information by the imposed blackout of the typhoid calamity, and the right of victims to receive proper treatment. According to the victims' families, doctors in Mit Ghamr hospital were instructed to receive only a limited number of the victims. What is more, the authorities paid inadequate effort to identify the real causes of the plague, which threatens poor villagers of repeated attacks. They only focused to avoid any charge for the disease and put the blame on the farmers' hand-driven pumps as if citizens were responsible for the poor conditions under which they were forced to live; as if they were responsible for the government failure to supply the village with the most basic infrastructure and services, despite its claims of allocating billions for promoting infrastructure and public utilities; as if this, in itself, does not provide sufficient basis for condemning their policies! Their manoeuvres, however, were not successful. The laboratory examination conducted by the ECHR confirmed no trace of Salmonella Typhii in the samples of water taken from the village, which proves that the hand-driven pumps in the villagers' houses are not the source of the disease. Nevertheless, it does not prove the same thing for the official water supply (the village's main water supply station), for, during the period from the mid-February, when the first clues of a plague appeared, until mid-March, when the press started to recognize the village's plight, the authorities had sufficient time to cover up the case by treating possibly infected water. During this period, the local authorities endorsed a budget for the replacement and upgrading of the village's water supply network, while al-Anani family presented a device for chlorine production to the water supply station.
These doubts are further confirmed if we take into account the historical background of suffering from the lack of clean water, not only of the residents of Damas, but of the citizens in al-Dakahliya province as a whole. According to official statistics, some 89 Ezpas (small villages) in al-Manzala, al-Synbillawain, Mit Ghamr (all are districts in al-Dakahliya), with a population of 600,000 citizens, are totally deprived of clean water. These villages depend for water supply on underground water pumped by mostly out-of-date, rusted pumping stations. One example of such stations is the Galia Mobile Station that pumps water from a waterway at the entrance of the City of Belqas. The channel is full of parasites as it serves as a debouchments for the city's sewer system, which led to the spread of epidemics such as Typhoid, Bilharzias, Cholera, and Hepatitis (A and B) among residents of al-Dakahliya. Official statements assert that fact; general secretary of the ruling NDP in al-Dakahliya, Mohammad Mahmoud Abdel Rahman, pointed out that 30% of citizens in the governorate suffer from hepatitis as a result of using clean watercourses for disposition of sewage water.
The victims of such neglect are not only the residents of al-Dakahliya governorate; rather poor people throughout Egypt are destined to suffer from similar conditions. According to an official census, carried out by the Central Agency for Management and Organization in 1996, 3.4 million families have no access to safe water, of which 1.3 million depend on underground water pumped by unqualified machines, and almost 2 million families use water pumped from watercourses and outlets and transported in huge containers subject to pollution. The census also asserts that out of the 8.5 million families, living in rural Egypt, some 6.5 million have no sanitation system, which means that the disposition of sewage water mixes with underground water that many of poor Egyptians consume - making them victims of poverty, oppression and disease. On the breakout of Typhoid in Damas, the various government agencies competed to underestimate the threat and gave no notice to the assertions made by specialists on the 20% rise of Typhoid infection compared to last year's numbers. In addition, the Salmonella typhii bacterium, that causes Typhoid fever, appeared in several areas throughout the country. The first clues of Typhoid appeared in two districts in al-Qalyoubiya governorate - (al-Khanka and al-Kalag). Several cases also appeared in two villages in al-Gharbiya governorate - Batina and Abu Ali. In all these cases, the disease resulted from water pollution in the public water containers, the rising level of underground water, and the disposition of sewage in the clean watercourses. Such facts only mirror the magnitude of the disaster threatening the Egyptian poor, who seem to be deliberately excluded from the benefits of development and live under terrible conditions that resemble those of the Middle Ages. The spread of Typhoid and other epidemics provides sufficient evidence that water is the source of the plight and asserts the responsibility of the government policies for the sufferings of the poor. The tragedy of Damas village, however, is the result, not only of the spread of Typhoid, but also of the government oppression and its violation of the most basic human rights. In their rush to escape responsibility for the plague, local authorities paid little attention to identify the source of the disease, neglecting the basic requirements for the protection of public health. Even if we accept their claim that the official water supply station was not the source of the disease, these authorities would remain responsible for the spread of the plague, which approached the crisis with a police mentality that prioritised political and security stability at the expense of the right of citizens to healthcare and protection. Also, they remain responsible to identify the real causes of the Typhoid pestilence in Damas.
3A Mohamed Hagag ST . from Mohamed Bassiuoni ST .(AbdEmonam Riad Square
Third Floor , Flat17
Tel : 5744428 / 5781003 Fax : 5744428
Email : email@example.com
تصميم : جمال عيد