By Shakeh Avoyan
Public anger over the authorities’ handling of a serious contamination of drinking water in Yerevan mounted at the weekend as the number of people infected with dysentery, most of them children, continued to rise.
Government officials and water supplies executives had still not identified the cause of the epidemic which some medics described as the worst of its kind in decades. They are only certain that it was triggered by an October 26 breakdown on an old pipe that supplies drinking water to Yerevan’s northern Arabkir district and some parts of the city center.
Meanwhile, 113 people were hospitalized as of Saturday with abdominal pains indicating the disease that causes a severe form of diarrhea, doctors at the city’s Nork Infections Hospital told RFE/RL. The great majority of them are children below the age of 14. Their angry parents were wondering why they were not warned by the authorities of the health risk on time.
“I’m suffering with him for the third day,” said a mother of a two-year-old boy. “He can’t even raise his head. And that happened because of this state.”
“I’ve been in a nervous state all these days,” said an elderly woman whose four-year-old granddaughter was spending her third day on the hospital bed. “I am very depressed to see so many kids here suffering.”
Hasmik Ghazinian, a senior doctor at Nork, said the medical personnel share the parents’ feelings. “There is a lot of outrage and anger among both the parents and medics. Those who manage water supplies must be held accountable,” Ghazinian said, adding that she has never dealt with an epidemic of this scale during her 25-year professional experience.
“The influx of patients continues,” she said, contradicting earlier forecasts by other doctors that the disease outbreak should die down by the end of last week.
Yerevan’s cash-strapped water and sewerage network announced initially that the infection was caused by drainage waters that mixed with drinking water after heavy rains through holes in one of their pipes. Network executives blamed the problem on a lack of funds which keeps them from replacing hundreds of kilometers of eroding Soviet-era supply lines.
But that version of events has not yet been officially confirmed. The government and the state-owned utility, strongly criticized by the media for the way they have coped with the crisis, continue to urge residents of affected areas to boil their water before drinking it.
There are, meanwhile, growing calls for a criminal investigation and financial compensation to the victims. “We must sue the water company because it is responsible for what happened,” said the mother of another infected child. “They are only good at collecting fees and making us buy water meters.”
Other parents are more skeptical, though. “Will it make any difference?” asked one man. “Who cares about us?”