Children who play in piles of rotting garbage throughout the city of Basra, some 550km south of Baghdad, are increasingly suffering from typhoid fever as well as fungal and bacterial skin diseases, doctors said.
Up to 15 children per week come to the Children’s Hospital of Basra with diseases related to their contact with accumulated garbage, Dr Hussein Ashayri, clinician at the Children’s Hospital of Basra, said. Last week, two children died from infections caused by cuts on their body while playing with garbage, he said.
“Some children even eat food found in the garbage, and others usually do not wash their hands after playing with it,” Dr Ashayri said.
In the past, garbage bags were collected daily from the doorsteps of residents, but residents say Basra’s municipality has been reduced to weekly pickups or even less often in the suburbs. The garbage piles up in mounds, and the stench wafts through the streets.
The city’s 1.5 million residents now must search for empty areas to leave their garbage.
“They are very late to collect the garbage on the streets of our city, and you see, children are playing in this dirty stuff,” says Ali Nuridin, 34, a shopkeeper in Basra. “The smell is terrible, and you can see an increase in the number of flies in our home, which for sure are carrying diseases.”
The delay in collection is just another symptom of an ailing system, city officials said. Garbage collectors have abandoned their jobs, and trucks are falling apart, according to Farid Hassan, public works manager for Basra Municipality.
Hassan said several dozen employees in the department have quit because they are afraid of the ongoing violence in the streets. Less than 100 employees are still working, he said.
The garbage collectors don’t always have working trucks, Hassan said. “We tried to fix some trucks, but because they are very old, some of them cannot even be repaired,” he said. “We had asked for new vehicles but until now no response from the central government.”
The problems of refuse collection and a deteriorating infrastructure in the city began under former president Saddam Hussein’s regime, Hassan said.
“Unfortunately, it seems the south of Iraq has been always forgotten by the government, and investments here are always less than those in the north and central parts of Iraq,” Hassan added.
Locals have started to burn the accumulated garbage in their gardens or on street corners to prevent the spread of disease. However, the smoke from the burning garbage led to children having respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis, Ashayri said.
“Urgent action should be taken to stop this attack against the health of children in Basra,” Ashayri said.