Monks fear water polluted

by WASSAYOS NGAMKHAM, Bangkok Post, Dec 6, 2005

Stored bodies may have poisoned well

Phangnga, Thailand -- Almost one year after the tsunami disaster monks at Wat Yan Yao in Takua Pa district, where thousands of tsunami victims' corpses had been kept for post-mortems and identification, still fear the well water being used by the temple is contaminated with fluids released by rotting bodies.

<< Phra Somsong Kalayano, 36, of Wat Yan Yao in Takua Pa district, Phangnga, smells the water in the temple's well amid worries it may be contaminated by fluids seeping from tsunami victims' corpses stored at the temple. — SAROT MEKSOPHAWANNAKUL

Despite the worries, the monks choose to continue using the well water instead of tap water in a bid to cut costs while waiting for the state to fulfill its promise to restore the local temples.

Phra Somsong Kalayano, 36, said the six Buddhist monks left at the temple are worried that if the water in the temple's only artesian well was really contaminated, then visitors to the temple could suffer infections or contract a contagious disease.

``I don't think germs can easily be killed by rain either. Contaminated soil may not have been fully removed to allow the restoration of the temple's front yard. The body fluids can reach the underground water system,'' he said.

Nearly 1,000 bodies were cremated at the temple earlier this year.After the temple was cleared of the bodies, the dirty soil was removed and the ground sprayed with germ killers and filled with new soil.

``But, when the soil was being removed, it started raining and that could have mixed the body fluids with rainwater and sent the contaminated water deeper underground. I'm afraid that it may have penetrated the underground water table,'' said Phra Somsong as he leaned forward to smell the well water. It did not smell bad.

The monk also complained that it had been nearly a month since samples of water from the well were taken for tests by the provincial public health office.

``The results should have been out by now,'' he said. Germs or no germs, the monk insisted that the temple would continue using water from the well as it could not afford to pay for tap water.

A tap water system was recently installed in the temple by the Provincial Waterworks Authority, but the monk decided that it would be in the best interests of the temple not to use it.

``The temple's monthly income from donations is only around 8,000 baht, which is not enough to cover the temple expenses. That also makes tap water unaffordable here,'' the monk explained.

He wants to know if the state would continue footing the temple's electricity bills for another year, and when it would build the planned 3.6-million-baht new pavilion to replace the old one which had been used for post-mortems.

So far, the government has set aside only about 400,000 baht for restoring the temple. Fortunately, a foreign charity foundation recently offered to finance the construction of the new pavilion.

At Wat Lak Kaen in Thai Muang district, where more than 1,000 tsunami corpses had been kept, Phra Khru Wibul Vejjakij called on the Interior Ministry and concerned agencies to take urgent steps to give the temple a new look.

``More than 1,000 bodies were brought here for cremations and caused the temple's crematorium and incinerator to crack open. The money we got for the services was so little. The temple spent more than 40,000 baht to help,'' the monk complained.

The province replaced the cracked incinerator with a smaller one, but had yet to give the temple an 18-million-baht restoration budget and a tap water supply system as promised.

It still owed the temple around 350,000 baht for cleaning the contaminated compound and spraying the germ killers with the help of monks and villagers.

At Wat Khommaneeyakhet in Takua Pa, where hundreds of tsunami wave victims were cremated, Phra Sompoj Jittasangwaro admitted the monks there joined the clean-up operation right away without waiting for state assistance to arrive.However, the temple has urged the provincial authorities to consider its request for a six-million-baht budget to construct a new temple building.