20 people died of kidney failure in last 15 months, 30 more afflicted
Water contamination suspected; no action by administration
Ongole: Dharmavaram is a small village in Marripudi mandal and near Podili of Prakasam district. The village has about 400 households and a population of around 2000. Most of the villagers are daily wage earners and known to be hard working. About 20 people died in the village during the past 15 months, with the same problem – kidney failure and more than 30 patients are now counting their days in the village.
For the past few months, about 50 families left the village fearing for their lives and also in search of livelihood. The remaining families are worried about taking a decision to leave the village or pray to their favourite god to save their family from the claws of the deadly disease.
It is just two months ago that Govind was married. One day he complained that he was suffering from back pain, but his friends made fun of him. He took some painkillers and continued his daily work. One day he suddenly fell on the ground with pain in his testicles and unable to take another step. He died a few days before celebrating the third month of his married life, as both his kidneys failed. This condition is termed as chronic kidney disease (CKD) by doctors.
Kommu Samson used to be one of the clever students in his school. After her husband’s death few years ago, Samson’s mother Ranemma was working hard for her son’s education and had great dreams about his future. Now, Samson is one of the daily wage labours in the village and only person surviving in his family. His mother died of CKD.
Narapureddy Penchaliah, Yaraballi Kotilingam, Mule Balakotaiah, Nelapati Paul, Macharla Peturu, Mule Narayana, Chintakuntla Kantamma, Martala Kotamma, Gopireddy Subbareddy, Tippasani Narasimhareddy and many more are in the list of people who died due to CKD.
Every month one or two names are added irrespective of their age, gender, caste or financial and social status. The people in the village are generally healthy and had no history of any critical diseases till the last six years until they start deepening the drinking water bore wells.
K Venkata Reddy of the village explained, “Up to the year 2000 we used the bore in main bazaar for drinking water. When it was not working, the villagers started to drill bore wells in their homes. Then the average depth was around 50 feet or so as the Nagarjuna Sagar canal flows nearby. But as the drought conditions increased, we needed to deepen the bores further up to 150 to 200 feet.
By 2010, all bores in the village, around 200 in number, were dug up to 200 feet depth. Since then we started facing health problems. A white powder film like residue was being formed on the water surface and the steel utensils in which the water is stored are getting corroded. As we have no alternative, we are drinking the same water after filtering it, but ended up with severe back pain and for the past couple of years, deaths due to kidney disease.”
Kolla Ramulu, another villager said, “We brought the issue to the authorities, who promised us to provide safe drinking water. They built a over head water tank in the village, but the bore they dug didn’t work after a few days. They didn’t care to provide any alternate source. The local MLA promised to take the issue to higher authorities, but there is no use. In the mean time, we are losing one or two villagers every month and spending about Rs 15,000 to 20, 000 for dialysis and treatment for kidney disease.
The villagers have given representations to the district and State administration to provide safe drinking water. Brahma Gopala Reddy, sarpanch of the village said, “The Nagarjuna Sagar water through Ramathirtham pipe line comes up to Vijayaalakshmi Pet, which is just 6 km away from the village. The administration can provide safe drinking water through the pipe line and filling the over head tank to supply to each and every home.
As we already have bores, there is no requirement of water for usage purposes. Providing just 150 litres to a household does not need much budget. If the administration approves the pipeline, we can build it in 24 hours.” The district officials have no clue what is going on in Dharmavaram. The medical and health department, RWS department has collected water samples and tested it for possible reason.
All they found is that the fluoride level is 5 to 6 ppm in the bore water, but that does not kill people. Dr J Yasmin, District Medical and Health Officer said, “As per the basic reports available with our and the RWS departments, the fluoride level is not high. The level is almost similar in many places of the district. We recently collected the samples again and sent them to Institute of Preventive Medicine in Hyderabad for further analysis.
Though we didn’t find anything dangerous in the bore water, we suggest the administration to see if surface water may be provided to the villagers through a pipe line from Vijayalakshmi Pet.” Dr A Srihari of Aneesh Kidney Centre in Ongole, where most of the villagers are being treated said, “Most of the villagers may think the kidney disease is due to fluorosis. But even if there is skeletal fluorosis, it has nothing to do with kidney problems.
As per the records, there is not much fluoride in the water, compared to other areas in the district. There may be a chance that heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and strontium could be present in the water. The samples must be tested at advanced laboratories for these heavy and radioactive materials. We are treating all those who come to hospital with kidney failure, but not we cannot attribute any reason for the disease.”
Some villagers see a political angle in the motive of government for not providing drinking water even after a number of villagers are dying due to CKD. They said, “Most of the villagers belong to opposition party and we elected the sarpanch unanimously even after many persuasions from the ruling party. Villages supporting the ruling party at further distance than us get drinking water from Vijayalakshmi Pet but our village is neglected though people are dying.”
Brahma Gopala Reddy said, “Death should be unexpected. But in our village, every one of us, including family members knows who is going to die in the next few days. When a person starts complaining about back pain and needs a stick to walk, we can surely say he is going to die in a few months. This is putting a lot of psychology burden on the family and pray this should not happen to anyone. For the past two years 25 villagers have died due to the same disease.
The officials say they do not know the reason for the disease. As we have a doubt that the ground water is the possible cause and ask the administration to provide safe drinking water, there is no response. Who is behind the death of our villagers? Is it the politicians, the officials or the ground water? We want to know who is cursing us so that we can plead them to save us.”