By Shakeh Avoyan
Forty-one people, most of them children, have been hospitalized with abdominal problems since a weekend pipe accident that contaminated drinking water supplied to northern parts of Yerevan, medics told RFE/RL on Thursday.
The infection is thought to have been triggered by drainage water that leaked into the pipeline in the city’s Arabkir district after the erosion of one of its aging sections. Water in a nearby reservoir was promptly processed with anti-bacteria chemicals and local residents were told to boil it before drinking.
The chief doctor at the city’s Nork Infections Hospital, Ara Asoyan, said 10 adults and 31 children aged under 15 have been diagnosed with dysentery, a disease that causes severe diarrhea, and are currently undergoing urgent treatment. He said the contagious disease has a “medium degree of gravity” that does not threaten their lives.
“So far we have had only instances of dysentery,” Asoyan said. “If we register other infections, we will talk about them.” The infection has already reached its peak and will start declining on Friday, the doctor added.
A senior Healthy Ministry official, Marieta Basilisian, blamed the disease outbreak on water contamination. “We examined the water and found that it does not meet hygiene norms and state standards for safety,” she said.
Yerevan’s water and sewerage network admits that the pipe problem was the main source of the contamination. Its spokesman, Murad Sargsian, said Arabkir residents should continue to disinfect their water until further notice.
“The entire network is vulnerable [to such accidents] because of being obsolete,” Sargsian said. He complained that his companies lacks the resources to replace many old water mains.
Armenia’s entire system water supplies is undergoing a sweeping structural reform designed to render it more efficient. The World Bank has encouraged the effort with long-term concessional loans that are used for refurbishing the Soviet-era network of pipes. The bank allocated a $20 million loan for that purpose in 2000 and will disburse an additional $55 million starting from next year.
(Photolur photo: A doctor treating an infected girl in the Nork hospital.)