In Moldova, poor water supply exposes villagers to epidemics

By Petru Botnaru

Editor’s Note: This investigation was conducted by the Objective investigative reporting project in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, a Kyiv Post partner. The program is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action. The story can be freely republished with proper credits.

LOZOVA, Moldova — George Doska from Lozova village in central Moldova has recently turned 40 and made himself a valuable present.

He took all the money he earned working at construction sites abroad and built himself a solid three-story house.

But even though Doska’s little mansion may seem almost luxurious from the outside, it doesn’t have one essential thing – a water supply.

In the village of some 6,000 people, there is no organized water supply. The villagers, including richer ones like Doska, have to dig wells and take water from underground.

Digging a well is expensive – it cost Doska $1,500 – and the quailty of the water is poor. Doska admits that in four years that he has been using the new well he hasn’t checked the quality of the water in it. It is expensive and troublesome to order expert tests, he says.

He is not even troubled by the fact that in 1999 some 200 people in his village got infected with hepatitis A, supposedly because of bad water.

Water problems are common in Moldova. While the country is successfully moving forward on its way to integrate with the European Union, most of the nation’s 3.5 million people lack access to clean and safe drinking water.

Most Moldovans – some 85 percent of the population – live in the country’s 1,000 villages. And 80 percent of the villagers don’t have access to clean water supply. In 2007, the government adopted a Strategy for Providing Water and Sewage Systems for the people of Moldova, but due to lack of funding, the project still exists on paper only.

The well water poses a serious danger for health. Apart from the hepatitis risk, the well water proved to have other dangers.

The National Center for Public Health, based in Chisinau reported in March 2013 that the quality of drinking water was low. Some 84 percent of the wells in the country provide water that contain chemical substances like  sulfates and fluorine in dangerously high doses.

“Only 15 percent of the villagers have in-house water supply, in contrast to 80 percent of the population of the cities,” says doctor Ion Shalaru, deputy head of the National Center for Public Health. “The villagers mostly use the water from the wells, which is often contaminated with nitrates, which leads to illnesses, often deadly.”

The victims of a 1999 hepatitis A outbreak in Lozova still suffer from its consequences.

“I can’t live without medicines even now. I hate to think how much money the treatment has cost,” says Ion Avraam, a hepatitis A victim from Lozova.

The situation is complicated with droughts that often happen in Moldova. In the time of drought, some wells dry out, leaving villagers with no access to water at all.

The International Monetary Fund lists Moldova as the poorest state in Europe. It comes as no surprise that the state budget can’t finance the water programs, and citizens’ best hope is help from foreign donors. The Swiss government has been most helpful so far. It has been financing projects aimed to improve the sanitary state of Moldova villages by building ecologically safe toilets Ecosan that are unaffordable for regular Moldovans.

To build aqueducts that would bring clean water to the villages, the villages need to get sewage systems too, which means more money is needed. In Moldova, where an average salary is around $260, citizens avoid any extra expenses, even when it means health risks. The local budgets can’t bear this burden either. In Vorniceni, a village in central Moldova, an aqueduct was built for $70,000, and it doesn’t even reach the whole village.

On a recent hot summer day, an elder woman was walking along a central street of Gelesht village in Moldova, carrying a heavy bucket of water.

“It’s my third bucket today,” said the woman, Maria Budu. “I’ve been bringing home three or four buckets of water every day all my life. It’s not so bad in summer, but winters are hard.”

With a population of some 3,000 people, Gelesht is not a small village. And still, it doesn’t have an aqueduct to supply clean water to the households. Many households have cattle, which influences the quality of the ground waters badly. The outdoor toilets with pits instead of sewage systems add to the bad impact.

According to Dr. Boris Strashenyanu from the Strashenskiy Center for Preventive Medicine, one of the recent water analysis conducted in Gelesht showed the well water contained excrements.

“The villagers don’t have much land and often dig a well not far from an outdoor toilet,” Strashenyanu says.

“Also, consider all the illegal landfills and wide usage of pesticides in farming,” he adds.

It all results in huge health risks. The latest hepatitis A victims were registered this year in Syrets, another Moldovan village with no water supply.

Vasil Budu from Gelesht is not looking forward to an aqueduct to be built in his village, because he expects the quality of the water to be poor anyway. It is partly because Dnister and Prut, the rivers that supply 85 percent of Moldova’s water, are known to be polluted.

“What’s the point of having water if it is not safe to drink?” he says.

Petru Botnaru is a freelance journalist living in Vorniceni, Moldova.

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