Water contamination in flood-affected panchayats of Abujhmarh in Narainpur district of south Chhattisgarh may result in a huge death toll, it is feared.

The secretary of one of the affected panchayats, Kamluram Netam, has told journalists of Narainpur that several panchayats of the area are “severely affected and the death toll will go up.” So far, more than 20 persons have died due to water-borne diseases, the locals said. Many are sick and it is not clear whether any medical support has reached the affected panchayats.

State Health Secretary M.K. Raut told The Hindu that “four combat teams” had been sent but none had reported back to base. “We are waiting to hear from them,” the secretary said. He clarified that no “cholera outbreak” was reported from the area, but with the onslaught of fierce monsoon an attack of gastroenteritis indeed had taken place.

Gastroenteritis, along with malaria, is considered a killer disease in forests of Abujhmarh, which is a 4,000 sq km area almost entirely dominated by left wing rebels. The affected panchayats are deep inside Abujhmarh.

On Thursday, the secretary of one of the affected panchayats, Dunga, visited Narainpur, and handed over a list of 14 Abujhmaria tribals who died due to gastroenteritis. Seven of them were women. “Twelve of them are from Dunga and two from Handwara,” said a journalist from Narainpur, Binay Rai, quoting Mr. Netam. Apparently Mr. Netam has also told journalists that dozens of panchayats are “badly affected and the death toll will go up over next few days.”

Narainpur Collector Yaswant Kumar denied any deaths so far. “I have reports from Handwara and no one has died,” he said. Mr Kumar said the teams from Dunga — which is further south, near Bijapur — were yet to return. “So we do not know if anyone has died.” He claimed that the list of the deceased Maria Gonds submitted by Mr. Netam was “not giving” the correct picture. “Those people died over last few months of natural causes,” said Mr. Kumar.

Meanwhile, four teams, including the one led by Chief Medical Officer of the district S.K. Kanwar, left for the affected panchayats, Mr. Kumar said.

Mr. Raut said that while the government took some “precautionary measures,” the magnitude of the problem was huge.