Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Typhoid Hits Tajik Capital

An intermittent power supply and crumbling sanitation facilities have led to the spread of a killer disease.
By Vladimir Davlatov

A fatal typhoid outbreak in Dushanbe has been blamed on the appalling living conditions most of the capital's residents are forced to endure.


Dushanbe health chief Nina Kravchenko told IWPR that one local had died and 276 have been diagnosed with the disease - 88 of them children. Other reports in the independent media put the figure at around 500 with three deaths.


Typhoid is characterised by sustained fever, severe headaches and nausea, and up to ten per cent of those infected may die without proper treatment. It is usually transmitted through infected food and drink.


The Tajik ministry of health, which does not have enough money to buy a vaccine against the disease, is advising people to wash their hands and boil water before using it.


Kravchenko blames the outbreak on heavy rainfall washing waste from storehouses and toilets into the Varzob River, where the city draws its drinking water. "Normally when water is highly polluted we add chlorine, but it was so dirty this summer that this was of no use," she said.


Dushanbe's water department chief Rustam Ibragimov added that repair work on the city's main reservoir has meant purification and de-silting have not been carried out since April.


Such poor standards of hygiene have already caused outbreaks of infectious diseases in the city on a number of occasions.


Khoitali Kholov, a taxi-driver and father of eight, lives in a suburban house without basic amenities. He told IWPR that two of his children recently caught typhoid after the family was forced to use water from an irrigation ditch where they also clean their clothes and wash their dishes.


"At home there is no water for several weeks, the children can't wash and we can't clean anything or even do the washing up after we eat," he said.


There is little hope that the situation will improve. Tajikistan's economy has not yet recovered from the five years of civil war that followed independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.


For more than a decade, the capital's one million citizens have had no regular supply of electricity, gas or water. Grandiose monuments and memorials, modern restaurants, billiards rooms and nightclubs are cold comfort for residents denied basic amenities.


"It's just terrible. In spring, 'coffee with milk' comes out of the taps - dirty water with clay in it - and now there is a huge quantity of sand in the water along with leaves and even small twigs," pensioner Lilya Mikhailovna told IWPR. "We have to boil water several times and filter it before allowing it to settle to make it pure."


In many districts of the city, water is not available above the second floor of high-rise apartment buildings because of constant breakdowns at the pumping station.


"We haven't had our supply for several months and every morning we have to collect water in buckets from the Dushanbinka River," said resident Elena Sorokina, who lives on the sixth floor of a nine-storey house.


Several international organisations have allocated grants and aid in an attempt to improve the situation, but with little effect.


The World Bank announced in July that it had approved a 15 million US dollar package to allow Tajikistan to repair its capital's water supply system. "We very much hope that the project will help to solve the problem, otherwise we would not have got involved," Dilofruz Zairova, a spokesperson for the World Bank's Dushanbe office, told IWPR.


While there are hopes that this money will make a difference, the water supply is just one of Tajikistan's problems. Households in some districts can go without electricity for days and sometimes even weeks or months.


In the bitter winters, this lack of heating forces many residents to sleep in their clothes, and leads to a number of health problems. Diseases eradicated in many other parts of the world - such as typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis - are now seen every day in the country's hospitals.


But the leadership of the country appears to be more interested in its international image than the health of its people.


Vladimir Davlatov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Dushanbe


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