Khachatryan got an ulcer on her neck as a result of a water-spread disease caused
by contact with rodents.|
The eyes of 63-year old Margo
Hovhannisyan become smaller from tears, and from the troubles she faces dealing
with a sick family.
"I'm driven into a corner, I don't know what to do,"
she says, waving her hands. "Four members of my family are hopelessly sick
and don't recover. This pain keeps gnawing at my family for a few months."
The pain invaded Fantan village (40 kilometers north of Yerevan) in the
end of March when approximately 200 people of 1100 residents of the village started
to complain of their health.
Residents became infected with tularemia, a
disease known to be transmitted from rodents such as rats, mice and field mice.
experts of the Ministry of Healthcare assure that in this case the disease reached
the villagers through water.
"The source of the outbreak and its spread
was drinking water supplied from Gutanasar to the community of Fantan. Thousands
of field mice holes were found next to the source of the water," says the
deputy head of the state anti-epidemic and sanitary revision Ghazaros Hakobyan.
"Bodies of field mice infected with tularemia were found in the water reservoir
and they became a cause of disease."
But the head of the Village, Valery
Ivanyan, disputes the medical experts' opinion, claiming, first, that "our
villagers are not sick", then saying that those who do have complaints "could
get infected as a result of airborne infection".
As (the elected) head
of the village, Ivanyan is responsible for maintenance of the village's water
reservoir located on the nearby Gutanasar Mountain. By law, the reservoir is supposed
to get periodic cleaning and disinfecting.
Ivanyan says the reservoir has
been maintained properly and cleaned regularly. Villagers dispute the claim, however,
saying they've never seen it cleaned. The reservoir has been closed since April
and Fantan residents now pay to have water brought from a nearby village.
first appeared nearly six months ago in 28-year old Fantan resident Lusine Khachatryan.
were many people sick," she says. "For an entire month I was undergoing
incorrect medical treatment. Doctors didn't know what to do. They were trying
different medicines, reading books but they couldn't do anything."
energetic and lively, Lusine gets tired from climbing only a few stairs. She is
nervous and her joints and heart ache. Her legs are swollen and an ulcer has appeared
on her neck. The ulcer was operated on two months ago, but it still becomes infected
"We lose our memory," says another sufferer of
tularemia, 34 year old Gayane Hovhannisyan. "And it seems that health problems
won't be finished until the end of life, however, it looks like it doesn't worry
Gayane and her 14 year old girl Anushik got infected with
tularemia five months ago. Anushik, who was training to be a singer, has become
hoarse. Like her mother, she has memory problems and often mispronounces familiar
"Today water is a symbol of evil for us," says Margo Hovhannisyan.
"As a result of bad water quality we lost everything: our health, hope, cheerfulness
and everything we had as correct and incorrect treatments during many months cost
us a pretty penny. Today we have seriously ill family members, debts of $400 for
medicines and two sheep we can't sell because nobody wants to buy anything from
Fantan after this thing with disease."
A few hundred episodes of any
illness - especially water related - should be enough to cause alarm. In Armenia,
however, it barely produces a shrug.
Tularemia might not be common, but
Fantan is not an exception when it comes to water-transmitted illness in Armenia.
Khachatryan says the villagers are forced to carry water by barrels and cans from
Six weeks ago 300 guests at
13 hostels in Hrazdan got dysentery when water from drainage pipes was mixed with
A few years ago mass cases of cholera were registered in
the Zartonk village of the Hoktemberian region.
Being wary of water is not
merely restricted to the regions.
There were cases of typhoid fever in Gyumri
in May of last year and of jaundice in Goris the year before.
Street in Echmiadzin, Nuneh Shahnazaryan says her water stinks.
in all cases drinking water pipes are next to drain pipes," says Nuneh. "And
they are so old that there is a danger that different small microbes could pass
through cracks in pipes. Sometimes it happens that we cannot even look at the
water as it becomes so dirty and disgusting and it stinks."
resident Gayane Khachatryan worries about her children's health because of water.
They often have stomach aches and diarrhea.
When an ambulance attendant
was called for one illness, he advised boiling water before using it for any purpose.
"Water pipes are 25 to 35 years old, and that's a pretty long period of time,"
says director of the Echmiadzin Water Supply System ltd. Karen Avagyan. "After
rains the quality of water changes and the color of water changes as well because
grains of soil or sand reach people through the water."
some pipes are so bad they even pour mud into Echmiadzin household sinks.
refused to provide ArmeniaNow with results of laboratory research on his city's
water quality. His agency's work is perfect, he assures, and whatever problems
exist are not due to water quality, but to poor condition of pipes.
easy to find sources who say Armenia has a problem delivering safe water. It is
considerably harder to find anyone who can do anything about it.
lack of finances doesn't allow organizing works in this field on a high level,"
Avagyan says. "Residents are not used to paying for water and they think
that water is given by God.
In the case of the epidemic in Fantan, Hakobyan
says that Ivanyan was fined 50,000 drams (about $85) for negligence.
penalty is of little comfort to Margo Hovhanissyan's family and its $400 medical
"We heard that enough money had been allotted for us to get medical
treatment," she says. "We've done everything ourselves and those who
are guilty are smiling and freely walking around. Who is going to return the health
to my children or calm my neighbors? I've got no answers to that question."
are trying to fix damages as quick as it is possible, however, very often neglected
situations happen and corresponding bodies don't fulfill their work and obligations,"
says Hakobyan. "Examination of water is a very complicated process because
you must catch the necessary moment and know in advance what to research, otherwise
nothing will turn out.
"Some water may contain microbes but some not.
Besides, if there are no alarm calls, the Ministry of Healthcare has a right to
conduct researches only once a year and only upon notifying an organization three
days before revision. And residents still don't have a well formed culture of
giving alarm calls and protecting their rights."
A few environmentally-conscious
agencies such as the Union of Greens have raised issues concerning the quality
of drinking water in Armenia.
"Drinking water is always considered
good in Armenia," says head of Armenian Green Peace Hakob Sanasaryan. "However,
such appraisals don't always comply with reality.
"Years ago we carried
out a research and detected very dangerous microbes that can cause both intestinal
infections and other very serious problems dangerous for health. We haven't recently
conducted such researches, however, we can visually identify many things. For
instance, we can detect small particles of mud in water, water pollution and grains
"All of that is because pipes are cracked and damaged, and
not only sand but also different malignant agents penetrate pipes that can cause
outbreaks, which have become an ordinary phenomenon."
was produced as part of an investigative reporting project supported by IREX/ProMedia
- Armenia, a program funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).