A Poor Sewage System that Leads to Tragedies

A Poor Sewage System that Leads to Tragedies
08 June 2020 | 17:36

In Moldova, only seven percent of the districts are connected to the public sewage service. The lack of a sewage system endangers the health security of the citizens and leads to children dying due to falling in the toilets’ pits. In the last five years, several children died in the backyard toilet pits of their families’ houses. While investigating the poor infrastructure of the sewage system in the country that led to so many child deaths, ZdG found out that in most of the rural areas a sewage system is a dream for people with limited financial resources.

Moreover, in most of the districts, at least half of the population is using makeshift toilets that are an ecological bomb, threatening the children and elderly lives. Local authorities, from several villages, argued that a sewage system requires huge investments – money impossible to obtain due to biased budgeting of city and town halls.

Although the Ecological Fund allocated millions of euros for the construction of water and sewage networks, the constructions have not been completed. The Ecological Fund’s hundreds of projects exhausted the money reserved for the construction and renovation of the water and sewage networks.

Infrastructure is the economy’s fertilizer, contributing to connecting people and offering them more opportunities, a sewerage system in the rural areas along with good roads can attract investments and bring more jobs. Access to safe water and sanitation is a precondition for people to lead a healthy life. 

In 2016, a child, from Zberoaia village, Nisporeni district, West of Moldova, died after falling in the toilet in the yard of the house. 

“Autopsy showed he tried to scream and drowned”

For four years, April 1 is a day of mourning for the Butnaru family. This is the year they lost Vitalin, their one-year and eight-month-old boy. 

The boy’s grandmother, Lidia Butnaru, says that they never thought that the toilet in the garden of the house can bring them so much trouble. The boy’s grandmother went to her sister. Vitalin and his younger brother remained home with their mother. Vitalin’s grandmother stated that Vitalin said he will go to the toilet. Vitalin’s mother remained home, taking care of Vitalin’s younger brother. Vitalin’s grandmother returned home from her sister, with candies for Vitalin, but Vitalin was nowhere to be found. She shouted and looked for him, but with no answer. 

Lidia Butnaru, Vitalin’s grandmother

They began searching for the boy immediately. They’ve checked the toilet in the garden, but they said there was nothing suspicious. The family searched desperately for him throughout the village, but the child had disappeared without a trace. After searching throughout the village, Vitalin’s grandmother asked the boy’s mother to check the toilet in the garden once again.

“Ania, take a long stick and use it to check the toilet’s pit. My heart tells me he is there,” she would have told the child’s mother. And after looking closely I heard: “Mom, there is something here!” My daughter collapsed. I went to look and while looking, I saw his foot… I shouted. The neighbors came and demolished the toilet and took the boy out of the toilet’s pit. The neighbours tried to give him first aid, but it was too late. The autopsy showed that Vitalin tried to scream and drowned, water came into his lungs,” Lidia Butnaru says while crying. Lidia Butnaru says that there is nothing more painful than losing a child. 

The place where Vitalin was found

The People in the Rural Areas Need Better Conditions

The toilet where the tragedy took place was demolished and plugged the very day the boy drowned. Although it has been changed several times and adapted so that such misfortunes do not happen again, it is still behind the house. The family says that a toilet in the house is too expensive for them. 

Although the news terrified everyone in the village, the people there told us that nothing has changed in the village. A resident of the village told us that most of the villagers still use the toilets placed in the yard or garden, adding that only people who are better off can afford a toilet inside the house. The resident of the village urges the authorities to take measures and build sewerage systems in villages. 

“We have to think of something. The people are building the toilets in the garden, but the authorities have to come up with a plan. The authorities provided us with water supply system, it should be possible to make a sewerage system. But the elections are coming soon and the politicians will fight among themselves again. But who needs this? They spend so much on the elections. There is a need for better conditions for people in the rural areas,” the resident of the village told us.

Another resident of the village told us that the authorities promised to build a sewerage system long time ago, but the system wasn’t built yet. The villager stated that most of the people living in the village understand the danger of improvised toilets in the garden, but they build them according to their possibilities, because a sewerage system is not so cheap. The villager considers that the state must build the sewerage system. 

An Ecological Bomb in the Villagers’ Gardens

Dinu Guțuțui, mayor of Zberoaia village, considers that most villagers still have makeshift toilets in the backyard, because there is no sewerage system in the village. Guțuțui states that these toilets are an ecological bomb in the villagers’ gardens, but the village will not build a sewerage system in the near future because it requires large investments. Guțuțui explains that the village’s budget is small and it is very difficult to make investments.

Dinu Guțuțui, the mayor of Zberoaia village

“There should be a national program for waste management and construction of sewerage systems. It is very difficult for a single village to build a classic sewerage system. We are looking for financial resources, but you know that a lot of European funding related to the development of the infrastructure in our communities has stopped and it is very difficult to find money,” Guțuțui says. 

In a Different Corner of the Country, ZdG Finds That Similar Tragic Stories Happened

The Ciobanu family, from Ialoveni city, center of Moldova, was doing repair works in the house. Viorica, their one year and three month old girl, was playing in the yard, while being supervised by her relatives. 

Ecaterina Ciobanu, the girl’s mother, told us that the girl disappeared and was found in a few minutes in the toilet’s pit behind the house, but it was too late. The tragedy happened on November 3, 2017. 

“I found her very quickly, but she was dead because of the dirt in the toilet. The doctors told me that if she fell into clean water, I would’ve saved her. It is a void in the heart, in the soul, a deep wound for life. There is no greater tragedy than a mother burying her child. It was like a nightmare. An unspeakable tragedy, a tragedy bigger than this does not exist “, says the girl’s mother. 

Ecaterina Ciobanu, Viorica’s mother

The tragedy deeply affected the whole family. After her daughter’s death, Ecaterina was bedridden for three months. Viorica’s older sister still has not overcome what happened. Ecaterina says that even after three years, the family is undergoing drug treatments to recover. 

“We’re trying to recover a little by little and move forward. My mother and the other two girls were my rescues. I’ve tried to spend more time with my children and avoid depression because I know that my children need a healthy, strong, optimistic mother to offer them a future,” Ecaterina Ciobanu says. 

Ecaterina says that the hole of the toilet was reduced and the road to it was blocked, but it was too late and her daughter Viorica can’t be brought back. However, the family is using the toilet in the garden, because it is very hard financially. Ecaterina and her husband had back surgery, and they have a child in wheelchair and another small child. Ecaterina also mentioned that they want to build their own house and build the toilet inside the house. 

In Ialoveni City, Nearly Half of the Residents Have Access to a Sewerage System

Sergiu Armașu, mayor of Ialoveni city, told us that 48 percent of the city’s residents have access to a sewerage system. Armașu acknowledges that the sewerage system is old, and failing. According to Armașu, the authorities invested over €1.02 million (20 million lei) in the sewerage system during the last four years. However, in July, only two more pipes of the central sewerage system will be put into operation. The mayor mentions that the system needs modernization, before connecting every home to the central system. 

Sergiu Armașu, mayor of Ialoveni

“We do not have enough financial resources to build this sewerage system. We have some big projects now. We’re working to supply the whole city with sewerage system, but it is a future perspective. Because a sewerage system is not so simple to build. When we can’t cover the expenses, the construction speed is low,” explains Armașu. 

The mayor claims that another problem is that the distribution of the state budget to the local public authorities is done on political criteria.

“It would’ve been good if the government distributed financial means equally to each mayor’s office. I think clear criteria must work. As long as there are no such criteria, more town halls will suffer. Today, I don’t think it’s a secret for anyone that if a mayor’s office is better financed then the mayor is part of a key political party. This is the situation and we must recognize,” the mayor of Ialoveni says. The mayor also claimed that solving the problems of access to aqueduct and sewerage must be a priority for all villages, and first of all, it must be a priority at national level. 

In 2015, a two-year-old girl died after falling in the garden toilet. The news terrified the residents of Semeni village, Zagarancea commune, Ungheni district, the center of Moldova. 

Ina Rîbcic, the social worker responsible of the village, says that what happened was a tragedy that marked everyone. The whole family, but also the residents of the village were shocked, because no such cases were registered in the country before.

Ina Rîbcic, the social worker responsible in the Zagarancea commune, Ungheni district

“We’ve supported the family psychologically, but the parents overcame it very hard. The mother is a faithful woman and she went to church often. Maybe this saved her. They passed through this period with difficulty, but they passed. At the moment, the family has four children, but the loss of their daughter was a tragedy,” Ina Rîbcic says.

The family avoided commenting on the tragedy that took place five years ago. The girl’s grandmother mentioned, that she would like to forget about the tragedy.

Poor Country With Rich People 

After the tragic accident, not much has changed. The social worker claims that the residents are more responsible and careful when using the toilets. However, most of the villagers continue to use the garden toilet, including the family where the tragedy occurred. The mayor’s office employee says that later the family was financially supported and built a hygienic corner in the house, but due to the poor financial condition they were not able to transfer the toilet to the house. Subsequently, they adapted the old toilet and continued to use it. 

“The vast majority of the population is affected by poverty and not everyone can afford to have hygienic conditions in the house (to build a toilet),” says Ina Rîbcic.

“It would be better to have sewerage system instead of this makeshift toilets from wood and very dangerous. The sewerage system was a matter discussed since the former mayor was in office. Some of the villagers were against, others were for. That’s how the problem remained unresolved,” says Aurelia, a resident of the Semeni village, Zagarancea commune.

Raisa, a resident of Semeni village, Zagarancea commune, Ungheni district

Our Moldovan wants to live like in Europe, but he has no possibilities. Everyone has built a sewer at home, which is not correct. This is anti-sanitary. Imagine, the fountain is next to the sewer. It’s very bad what we do, but we have to. We need to have centralized sewerage system like the villages in Europe, but for that we need money. But we know that there is not much money for the villages. We are a very poor country, with very rich people. That’s why we don’t have sewerage system in the village,” Raisa, another resident of Semeni village, Zagarancea commune told us. 

Ninety Percent of the Village’s Residents Use the Makeshift Toilets Behind Their Houses

The mayor of Zagarancea commune, Vasile Gaviuc, claims that approximately 90 percent of the commune’s residents use the makeshift toilets behind the house. The rest of the people who are better off managed to build individual septic tanks. The mayor claims that the first steps to solve the problem of centralized sewerage will be taken in 2021. Now, the authorities are preparing the project and the papers. 

“This type of investment is in the sights of the local public authority. We’ve been carrying out the construction and extension of the aqueduct networks. The sewerage network is to be completed. But the procedure of adoption and approval of the financing, through the National Ecological Fund, requires time and a certain bureaucratic procedure. It’s not that simple. In Moldova, we have some fluctuations, changes of governments, changes of ministers, changes of requirements, criteria. This stagnates the procedure for approving some financing, project approvals,” Gaviuc says.

Vasile Gaviuc, the mayor of Zagarancea commune

Approximately 50 Percent of the Houses in Hâncești District, Center of Moldova Do Not Have Access to the Sewerage System

A six-years old child, from Hîncești district, disappeared in May this year. Following two days of searches involving hundreds of people, the police announced that they found the body of a six-year-old child from Hâncești in the toilet in the yard of the house where he lived. Forensic examination showed that the boy died of asphyxia by clogging the airways with fluid (fecal masses). 

The tragedy in Hâncești took place because the family does not have the possibilities to connect to the public water and sewerage network, as in other districts with similar histories. 

Maria Rașcu, head of the Construction Communal and Roads Department within the Hâncești District Council, there are no villages in the district that are fully connected to the public water and sewerage network, except for the city of Hâncești. The representatives of Apa Canal Hâncești, the regional water supply utility, specified that 50 percent of the dwellings are connected to the sewerage network in the city. At the same time, 90 percent of the residents of Hâncești have access to the water network. The family from Hâncești, where the tragedy took place, was not connected to the water and sewerage network. 

In recent years, construction works have started on the water and sewerage networks in Hâncești district, and other districts in Moldova, but they have not been completed. Bălceana village from Hâncești district would’ve been one of the first villages in the district where the residents had access to water and sewerage network. But the project is not complete, although it was launched many years ago. 

The toilet in the yard, the village of Zberoaia

“In 2011-2015, when I was mayor I connected the village to water and developed the sewerage project. I also started the works. But they are not completed so far. Underground tubes have been installed, but there are problems. The company that did some work terminated the contract, and now we have to make changes to the project and find another company to finish the work. Probably, the company gave up because it won the project with the 2014 prices, but now they have changed. Recently, we were told that there was money to complete the project. We will see. […] When I started the project, people didn’t even understand what sewerage meant. But those who said then that they do not need sewerage, now every day ask me when the work will be ready. People started to get information,” states Iurie Pasat, mayor of Bălceana village.

Less Than Five Percent of Rural Villages Have Access to Water and Sewerage Networks

The Ecological Fund allocated millions of euros for the construction of water and sewerage networks. However, several projects were not completed, because the state chose to finance hundreds of other projects at the same time. When the money was finished, the work was stopped. At the same time, several criminal cases were opened for corruption in the process of implementing these projects, about which ZdG previously wrote.

The share of districts that have access to the public sewerage system by development regions in 2019, Source: National Bureau of Statistics

According to the annual data published by the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2019, there were connected to the public sewerage service 7.6 percent of all districts, 95 percent of municipalities and cities and only 4.4 percent of villages.

The highest share of households with access to the public sewerage system was registered in Chișinău (71.4 percent) and ATU Gagauzia (15.6 percent). The districts in the South and North regions of the country have the lowest access rates ( 5.4 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively). The villages from Drochia, Fălești, Glodeni, Soroca, Rezina, Basarabeasca and Cantemir districts did not have access to centralized sewerage at all during 2019.

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