In Serbia, Bad Water Causes Disease among Roma

07 May 2002

In the Romani settlement Slavko Zlatanović in the southern Serbian town of Leskovac, many Roma have contracted skin diseases as a consequence of their bad housing conditions and lack of clean water, according to an article published in the October 2001 edition of Prava čoveka, the newsletter of the Leskovac-based Committee for Human Rights (Odbor za ljudska prava). As reported in the article, on the Tenth and Eleventh streets of this settlement, around fifty Romani houses do not have electricity, water or sewage removal. Out of both necessity and ignorance, wells for hand-operated water pumps were dug too near to field toilets, and the water, consequently mixed with feces, has caused diseases. The article was accompanied by photographs vividly depicting open wounds on many children. Local Roma complained that they cannot seek cures as they lack money for medicines, and a vast majority of them are unemployed. In summer, they use the local river for bathing, but in colder weather this is not possible. Despite the fact that the settlement is reportedly within the range of the Leskovac municipal water supply system, and that several foreign foundations have offered financial support for building infrastructure, local authorities reportedly claim that nothing can be done, since these streets were additionally built without legal permission. Experts also claim that building a new water supply system would be too complicated and costly.

Lack of infrastructure is a major problem in Podvrce and Novi milenijum, and other Romani settlements in Leskovac, according to the field report of the non-governmental organisation Roma Education Centre (REC), an ERRC local partner in monitoring Roma rights in Serbia. In an interview conducted by REC on January 24, 2002, Mr Nebojša Ajvazović, a local Romani leader, stated that a great majority of Romani houses have neither running water nor electricity. As Romani children do not speak Serbian well, local schools refuse to accept them, and they are then sent to a local special school for mentally disabled children. Young Roma reportedly fear to go to town in the evening, because of violent threats made by non-Roma. According to the same activist, three Romani babies died at birth in 2001, as their mothers were not permitted to exercise their right to health care in hospitals, because they did not have health insurance and could not afford to pay the doctor's fees. Local Roma claim that non-Roma receive social assistance in the value of 2,150-2,300 dinars (approximately 37-40 euros), while Roma are awarded only 350-700 dinars (approximately 6-12 euros). Mr Nebojša Bakterović, a 40-year-old disabled Romani man, told REC that the local social work centre repeatedly refused to accept his application for social assistance, despite his having submitted a complete set of the required documents.

(ERRC, Prava čoveka, Roma Education Centre)


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