COVID-19 Is Mucking Up Mumbai's Plans To Prepare For Monsoon Season
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Mumbai, home of Bollywood and India's financial hub, has been hit hard by the coronavirus. Out of every six infections in India, one is in Mumbai. And now the city is bracing for torrential monsoon rains, which bring flooding and a host of illnesses each year. Sushmita Pathak has this report.
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SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: On a humid day in June, a government van in Mumbai fumigates around apartment buildings to kill mosquitoes. It's part of the pre-monsoon preparation that the city undertakes each spring so that it's not overwhelmed when the rains come. But this year, Mumbai is already overwhelmed by a deluge of coronavirus cases.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Corona capital - that's right. Mumbai has emerged as the...
PATHAK: Mumbai now has more cases than Wuhan in China, where the pandemic began. With infections surging, monsoon preparations have taken a back seat, says urban affairs researcher Dhaval Desai.
DHAVAL DESAI: Now this year, especially because of the lockdown, most of these very critical pre-monsoon works have not been started.
PATHAK: He says most municipal workers have been busy tackling the coronavirus. Important tasks like unclogging stormwater drains to prevent flooding or inspecting decades-old buildings that may crumble under the intense rains have been delayed by months, Desai says.
DESAI: And so right now, all this work is just pending. And, well, the monsoon is already knocking on the doors.
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PATHAK: The monsoon brings relentless showers. The roads are inundated, and garbage piles up - paradise for all kinds of germs.
OM SHRIVASTAV: Dengue, things like malaria, leptospira, bacterial infections like salmonella, typhoid, sometimes cholera.
PATHAK: Dr. Om Shrivastav is an infectious disease expert. He says this year, hospitals will need to properly allocate resources for monsoon-related illnesses and COVID-19.
SHRIVASTAV: You'll need that separation of resources - yes - because you can't have somebody who is looking after COVID patients who will also need to look after malaria or leptospira, you know, or any of those things.
PATHAK: But Mumbai's hospitals, especially public institutions, are already struggling.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The pathetic condition of government hospitals.
PATHAK: A video on social media alleges that a COVID-19 ward at one of Mumbai's biggest government hospitals is severely understaffed. Another shows patients lying next to dead bodies in bags.
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PATHAK: Mumbai's congested slums are especially vulnerable. People live in cramped, tiny homes and share dirty public toilets. During monsoon, sanitation becomes an even bigger challenge. Swati Patil, who lives in a slum in East Mumbai, says the narrow streets there flood even if it rains for half an hour.
SWATI PATIL: (Non-English language spoken).
PATHAK: Patil says, "Homes remain waterlogged for days, and people sit on beds floating in water." Almost everyone gets a fever or cough, she says. This year, they have a new virus to fear. Dhaval Desai, the researcher, wonders how his neighborhood slum, which is right along the beach, will fare.
DESAI: Every monsoon during the high tide, they have to be evacuated because otherwise, they will be swept away by the sea waves. They all come and live on the streets.
PATHAK: When you're trying to survive and save your home, he says, social distancing and an invisible virus will be the last thing on your mind.
For NPR News, I'm Sushmita Pathak in Mumbai.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMOCK'S "YOU WALK AROUND... SHINING LIKE THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.