For Nurlan Kenenov’s three-year-old daughter, the symptoms started with yellowing eyes. Then a fever set in. Fortunately, she got well on her own, but now his nephew is in the hospital, fighting hepatitis. “There were at least 20 children” there when they checked him in, Kenenov said. “Many more had been there before we arrived.”
Kenenov and the 1,000-odd residents of Djide – a hamlet perched above the Ferghana Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan – face a health threat plaguing, by some estimates, more than half their region’s rural population: lack of access to safe drinking water. For years, people in Djide got their drinking water from a dilapidated, Soviet-built canal running alongside the village. But in 2009 provincial authorities dammed the canal two kilometers upstream to create an irrigation reservoir that has turned into a bathing pool. Ever since then, say the villagers, they have been getting ill, with this year the worst so far.
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Michael Igoe is a freelance reporter specializing in environmental issues in Central Asia.