Stagnation as a culture

WATER is for flowing. When made to stagnate, it buzzes deafeningly of a culture of deliberate ignorance. Look at the misfortune of the people of picturesque western Rajasthan, today also the malaria country. Thirsty desert dwellers will probably never pray for a good monsoon, for it brings death by malaria! At the time of going to press, the death count for this year's epidemic was over 50 -- these are people who died at primary health centres -- and more than 7000 are reportedly affected. Reportedly, for in bureaucratese, damage control means under-reporting...

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- WATER is for flowing. When made to stagnate, it buzzes deafeningly of a culture of deliberate ignorance. Look at the misfortune of the people of picturesque western Rajasthan, today also the malaria country. Thirsty desert dwellers will probably never pray for a good monsoon, for it brings death by malaria! At the time of going to press, the death count for this year's epidemic was over 50 -- these are people who died at primary health centres -- and more than 7000 are reportedly affected. Reportedly, for in bureaucratese, damage control means under-reporting.

The first reports of the Indira Gandhi canal as a malarial graveyard came to public attention in 1983 in Sri Ganganagar district. 5000 positive cases, in the first district to receive the canal's water. Twenty years have passed; the administration is still playing the ostrich. Consecutive epidemics are but reflections of the spread of canal irrigation in western Rajasthan. Barmer had an unprecedented 19,322 positive cases in 1990. There was a simultaneous outbreak in Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in late 1992 and early 1993. The 1994 epidemic in Barmer, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer killed 450 people. The same places (Kolayat in Bikaner, Pokran and Natchana in Jaisalmer, Phalodi in Jodhpur) figure as high incidence areas -- they are all at the heads of feeder canals.

The Anopheles stephensi mosquito, that always inhabited tankas and beris, are insignificant vectors. On the other hand, the species that carries the disease with a vengeance -- Anopheles culicifacies -- has spread exponentially along the canal. The canal has changed the desert physiography so much that a host of new vectors are found in affected area nowadays. Anopheles culcifacies has also shown resistance to DDT. This time around, it is rumoured, the DDT being sprayed is spurious as well!

One thing is clear. The socio-political system in this part of India has forgotten to utilise the bounty of the monsoon for social good. Ask any Kui maker; he will tell you how to retrieve the water trapped in sand. Ask any Kundi maker; he will tell you how to store the rain cleanly for use. Ask any tank maker; he will tell you how to make and keep tanks that don't breed mosquitoes. Ask people; they will tell you that if each drop of rain was merely harvested, there would be no stagnant pools. Simple vector control. No malaria.

It is blackly comic that, in order to control waterlogging and the malaria "tragedy", officials plan to plant eucalyptus trees in the desert! Couldn't they turn to people's water wisdom? No. That's not a buzzword.

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