Anger after slow announcement of water contamination leaves scores sick in Prague

Photo: CTK

Scores of people in Prague have been taken to hospital in recent days after drinking contaminated water. The authorities say the source of the problem was a dilapidated pipe – but residents in the affected Prague 6 district are more concerned about why they weren’t informed of the danger a lot sooner.

Photo: CTK
Around 150 residents of Prague 6 were treated in hospital for diarrhoea, vomiting and fevers between Friday and Monday after drinking contaminated water.

The source of the bacteria has been identified as a “dead-end pipe”, evidently built in the 1960s or ‘70s but not included on maps of the water network. The water in it is normally stagnant but changes in pressure in adjacent pipes can cause it to flow.

To make matters worse, locals say the authorities knew about the problem as early as Friday but did not inform them until Sunday. This has been denied by the mayor of Prague 6.

Travel writer Mark Baker, a long-term resident, is among those who are upset with the way the situation has been handled, after himself being sick for the entire weekend.

“The notice that the city sent out yesterday said very clearly that the Prague water company measured the water on Friday and found that it was contaminated by coliform bacteria. But the first public notices to residents of Prague 6 came out on Sunday.

“That means there was 48 hours between when they knew that the water was contaminated and when they actually told people about it.”

What’s your reaction to that tardy approach?

“I got sick on Friday. But I also got sick on Saturday after drinking the water and I got sick on Sunday. So at the very least they could have prevented me from two cases of being bent over in my bed and shaking and hurting. It’s a bad feeling.”

How have the local people reacted to this evidently very poor approach on the part of the authorities?

Photo: CTK
“I think people are pissed off beyond belief. I think people feel very much betrayed by the city and the water company.

“I think people are trying to put on a good face – and let’s put it in perspective, it’s not the end of the world and I hope nobody dies from this or anything like that, and I think that hasn’t happened – but it’s clear that the city and the water company were too slow in warning people.

“They could have prevented a lot of visits to the hospital, simply by telling people in advance what was going on.”

Now what’s the situation?

“I feel like I live in a quarantine zone. There are water tanks all over the place, which is to their credit but still it’s a little bit alarming to see a water tank on every street corner...

“There are 30,000 people who are affected by this. The city was late by 48 hours. That means that for 48 hours 30,000 people were drinking contaminated water that the city knew about but did not warn about. That caused at least 100, I don’t know how many, visits to the hospital and some serious illnesses.

“So it’s nutty. It’s crazy. I’m not a lawyer, but it borders on negligence.”