Commonwealth Games besieged – now diseased?

August 23, 2010

Plagued by endless corruption accusations, vast overspending claims and huge construction delays, you would be forgiven for thinking none of Delhi’s inhabitants were overjoyed about the city’s upcoming Commonwealth Games.

But you’d be mistaken, at least according to India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

On Sunday, he said that the construction sites for the Games, which kick off in just over 40 days, were providing perfect conditions for the city’s mosquitoes, and laying the blame for the city’s record-breaking dengue outbreak squarely with the organising committee.

Labourers work at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, one of the venues for the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. April 5, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/Files

“Dengue and water is strongly related. Delhi is already dug up because of the Games and it is also raining heavily. Since water remains accumulated in many places, it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which are contributing to diseases,” Azad told reporters.

Throwing salt in the organisers’ wounds was his thinly-veiled accusation that had the work been completed on schedule, and the construction completed before the monsoon weather arrived, this year’s outbreak of the deadly virus could have been avoided.

The embarrassing issue for the much-maligned organising committee is that he may well have a point.

Across the city, pits and troughs scattered around uncompleted Games venues have filled with rainwater during the recent monsoon downpours, providing the dengue-spreading Aedes mosquito with perfect breeding grounds.

This year’s count of dengue victims in the city — currently totalling 434 — represents a huge rise from 3 last year and 55 in 2008. But do two swallows make a summer?

Indeed, a spiralling dengue victim count needs a scapegoat, and what better culprit than the Games, which is already disliked by many of the city’s residents.

But Azad’s timing is intriguing. Recently, his government has slowly become engulfed in the Games’ bad publicity, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appearing to step in last week in an attempt to provide relief to Suresh Kalmadi, the Chairman of the Organising Committee.

Whether or not his comments are true, or indeed supported by his party, Delhi is anxious to be rid of the outbreak before the high-profile event begins in October.

City administrators, who are hard at work with fogging machines to prevent mosquito breeding in danger areas, said this week that none of their employees would get time off until the monsoon season concludes, while mobile vans have been laid on to rush victims to 24-hour dedicated hospitals.

According to an advertisement published by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, 6,125 people have been prosecuted this season for allowing water stagnation to occur on their property.

Following Azad’s comments, perhaps prosecutors will make a visit to Kalmadi’s office in the coming weeks. Until then, Delhi’s love-hate relationship with the Commonwealth Games rumbles on.

Is the Commonwealth Games to blame for Delhi’s dengue problem?

One comment

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Not only is Delhi anxious to get rid of the outbreak before the high profile event, the people are even more than anxious to get rid of the high profile event itself.

They are flocking travel agents to take the first flight/bus/train out during these games.

No, the games alone are not to blame, water stagnation does however have no small part to play. Its not as easy to discount it as being just a question of two swallows. 400 plus to a previous high of 55 may seem so to the author. To the rest of us it is blinkered vision.

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