Water rationing, dysentery outbreak become politicized

The China Post staff

Water rationing and the recent bacillary dysentery outbreak in greater Taipei have been politicized in yet another episode in an alleged campaign against the capital city’s Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. Twu Shing-jer, head of the Disease Control Center under the Cabinet-level Department of Health, on Monday reportedly blamed the dysentery outbreak in Tamsui, Taipei County, on Ma’s decision to impose water rationing. He yesterday provided more figures to prove that Taipei City mismanaged its water resources. Since rationing was implemented, the number of people suffering diarrhea in areas whose water supply came from the Taipei City-managed Feitsui Reservoir has been 60 times greater than the number in areas using water from Taipei County-run facilities, he said. But the disease control authority denied that his criticism had anything to do with “Ma-bashing,” concerted efforts by central government bodies to dampen the chances for the mayor’s reelection. Any conflicts between the city and central governments, including the Cabinet’s recent rejection of Taipei’s request for an NT$1.9 billion anti-flood fund, have been invariably linked to the year-end race. In response to Twu’s criticism, Taipei City said that the disease control authority was being irresponsible in making unfounded accusations. Tsai Huei-sheng, chief of the city’s water department, pointed out that Taipei had nothing to do with the Tamsui dysentery outbreak, because Taipei County does not depend on Feitsui for water. He also maintained that the water the city supplies to other areas in the county meets national standards. The city’s health bureau director, Chiu Shu-ti, also criticized Twu for jumping to conclusions in the investigation of the cause of the Tamsui epidemic. Chiu also said Twu’s figures concerning people suffering diarrhea were complied “carelessly,” adding that the comparison he made was based on data from different monitoring systems. Chiu said Taipei’s monitoring system was the strictest. “Twu is making unfounded accusations without definite medical evidence,” protested city spokesperson Wu Yu-sheng. “It is not only confusing, but also unprofessional … We hope the Department of Health can make corrections as soon as possible.” But Twu was not ready to make an apology or corrections, saying he had only commented on the figures concerning diarrhea cases without mentioning the Tamsui case. “The Taipei City Government should not be making political interpretations,” said Twu, although city officials did not mention anything about “Ma-bashing.” Meanwhile, health officials conducted a second disinfection at Tamsui’s Tengkung Elementary School, where at least 26 have tested positive for bacillary dysentery. Other students have also been prescribed preventive medication against the disease, the officials said. A total of 41 dysentery cases have been reported in Tamsui, and the health authorities suspect that the source of the bacteria is an eatery in the neighborhood.