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Farmers ‘poisoned selves’ in search of bumper harvest

At the beginning of the humanitarian crisis which began about three weeks ago, the villagers could not understand the reason behind the eventual death of…

At the beginning of the humanitarian crisis which began about three weeks ago, the villagers could not understand the reason behind the eventual death of people in droves. First, two people simply identified as Sama’ila and Bunu died shortly after their return from the farm and served with food and water by their families.

Before they got back home from the farm, it had rained heavily at the village and surrounding dwellings. While the families of the deceased were mourning them, more people died before sunset; a development which threw the village into pandemonium.

Unfortunately, whenever it rained, the village cannot be accessed by any type of vehicle or four wheeled truck because of the difficult terrain leading to the village which has valley –like sand contours, slopes and tributaries of rivers. As such, before local health officials can arrive, another man died and dozens of others including women and children began vomiting and purging.  

It was later established that the cause of the deaths was the heavy rainfall which washed away poisonous herbicides from farms into the well in the village which served as the source of water. The then commissioner of health, Idrissa Bukar Machinama, said government had made alternative arrangements for water. “We have also provided adequate drugs in our hospital in Gujba and Damaturu for treatment of victims and all suspected cases,” he said.

 “Our surveillance committee which includes representatives of the World Health Organization, have intensified monitoring efforts across the state.

“It was through routine surveillance that the problem in Mutai village was detected. The team has been alive to its responsibilities of monitoring possible outbreaks across the state which gives us the opportunity to act proactively and quickly,” he added.

 The Weekly Trust reports that the village which has more than 2000 people has an existing borehole but the villagers chose to abandon it in preference for an age long well.

“The village is probably the food basket of this area because an average farmer can get as much as 300 bags of guinea corn from a modest piece of land,” Suleiman Kachalla, Gujba local government chairman, told Weekly Trust.

“Most of the farmers don’t even care about applying fertilizer because the farmlands there are fertile and every farming season, dozens of people from Fika, Potiskum and other places throng Mutai in order to farm,” he added.

He however lamented that  farmers in the area have a short-cut of chasing away grasses, shrubs and other unwanted plants in the farms through the application of poisonous herbicides called ‘bomb or hannu daya’ instead of the traditional method of using hoes.

“That was exactly the cause of the latest trouble in the area because it was shortly after most of the farmers had applied herbicides on the farms that torrential rains fell and washed them into the well,” he said.

After three different attempts, this reporter could not visit the village because of the persistent downpour and whenever it rained, it has to take at least two days for the rough road to dry.

The chairman said even the scheduled visit of the deputy governor, Engineer Abubakar Aliyu, who is the new commissioner for health, was cancelled thrice because of the inaccessibility of the road.

It was during the ensuing confusion that many villagers fled Mutai in search of safety. Saleh Buba, a resident of the village, said he decided to move out because he was afraid of contacting the disease. “I moved to Buni Yadi (local government headquarters) with my two wives and children.

During the last visit by this reporter, the council chairman said a concentration camp was opened where all the victims were quarantined and treated.

“The state government had donated drugs and we bought some from this end. We have controlled the outbreak and discharged all the affected persons who have agreed to go back to the village,” Kachalla said.

He said the contaminated well has been sealed and the villagers advised to use the borehole which according to him, is functioning very well. “We have given them the diesel that will sustain them for a very long time,” he said.

The chairman also observed that recent happenings had raised fears over the attitude of many communities raising garden around their homes and applying herbicides on them. “The unhealthy practice has caused incalculable health implications for the people…it is now we are realizing the problem,” he said. “The need to have safe a drinking water and clean sanitary environment is a collective responsibility involving all the line ministries,” he said.


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