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Dead fish and foul smell in Ba River

By Nandani Vandhana and Samantha Rina SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 6, 2010) - DEAD fish, discolored mussels and a foul smell emanating from a traditional fishing ground have prompted health officials to send a team to investigate claims of chemical pollution in the Ba River in Fiji.

[PIR editor’s note: Ba is a district situated on the North Western part of the island of Viti Levu in Fiji. The name Ba is also used for a province, a tikina (A native Fijian administrative region comprising several villages), a town and a river. Ba is a sugar cane growing district and sugar cane farming and employment in the Ba Sugar Mill are the main areas of employment.]

Heavily reliant on the qoliqoli [fishing grounds] for their livelihood, villagers of Votua and Yalalevu claim the stench has plagued them in recent months.

And while women of the villages have had no choice but to continue diving for fresh water mussels in water believed to be polluted with poisonous chemicals, the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) Ba mill manager Bhan Singh did not respond to questions over the matter yesterday.

Votua Village qoliqoli guardian Pio Tuwai said despite raising concerns with the Ba Town Council and Environment Department, their grievances were not addressed.

"Women who dive for mussels complained that the water stung their eyes and the mussels did not look as white as they previously did. But we have not received any complaints of people getting sick after eating the mussels," he said.

Villagers have been forced to make do without fresh water fish after seeing dead fish floating in the river.

"We last met with the Environment Department officials in November last year and were told they would address the matter with the sugar mill in Ba, which we suspect as the source of the pollution in the river," said Mr. Tuwai. As a result of the water pollution, Mr. Tuwai said villagers had instead focused on planting more root crops now and finding jobs to support their families and earn much-needed income. Attempts to contact Environment Department director Epeli Nasome for comments on the matter were futile.

In Yalalevu, residents have spent many sleepless nights because of the rank smell and they cry foul over what they claim is chemical pollution in the Ba River.

Ba Town council administrator Arun Prasad said the Rarawai Mill was responsible for unpalatable odour.

"We have talked to FSC and it was decided that they would do something about it", Mr. Prasad said.

Yalalevu villager Kitione Natoka said the stench from the river has caused his family many restless nights.

"When the wind direction is towards my house from the river, we cannot sleep because of the bad smell," he said.

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