Monday, October 21, 2013

Dying on Bogotá's Streets - Quickly or Slowly

Passers-by discuss the death of a two-year-old girl, who fell to her death thru the manhole, then uncovered, Saturday afternoon. The man on the left said that whoever stole the sewer lid was guilty of accesory to murder. 
While her mother entered a plastic jewelry shop and her grandmother became distracted, two-year-old Michel Dayana chased after pigeons Saturday afternoon along the Eje Ambiental in central Bogotá.

But, shortly before, somebody had stolen the cover from a manhole. Tiny Michel fell inside. And, despite the heroic efforts of a street vendor, police and a soldier who all crawled down into the noxious underground tunnel, where the sewage-saturated San Francisco River flows below the avenue, the girl drowned and her body was recovered several blocks away.

Michel's tragedy is only the latest and most dramatic accident caused by the innumerable holes which make Bogotá's streets and sidewalks into obstacle courses in which a twisted ankle or knee is the lightest penalty for unwary.

A plastic 'non recyclable' manhole cover.
This particular tragedy can't really be blamed on the city government. Reportedly, the metal manhole cover had been stolen only a day or two before, one of thousands which disappear from Bogotá's streets every year. The thieves take the lids to nearby scrap dealers and sell them for perhaps 40,000 pesos. The city has purchased 'Non-Recyclable' plastic lids, which seem to last longer, but are still sometimes stolen and trafficked to other cities.

Stealing sewer lids is a crime. But those who pry the lids
A lidless utility box on
a Bogotá sidewalk.
off of the streets, likely at 3 a.m., are probably drug addicts who won't be dissuaded by any punishments. Others are professional thieves with trucks who never ever seem to get caught. A more effective response would be to punish the scrap dealers who buy these and other illegaly-obtained objects. Recently, thieves even stole much of the structure from a pedestrian bridge to sell.

Catching the scrap dealers wouldn't be difficult, either. Police could just send an apparent drug addict to the dealers carrying a sewer lid to sell. Nobody has a right to be offering a sewer lid. The scrap dealer who buys the lid would get fined and his business shut for a month.

While I discussed the tragedy with some some passers-by, a TransMilenio bus drove past, blasting us with toxic diesel smoke. Two young girls covered their faces and ran off. Michel's tragic death got a lot of attention, as it deserved. But what about the thousands of slow deaths caused every year by Bogotá's uncontrolled air pollution?

A TransMilenio bus drove up the avenue, spewing toxic smoke over us. 
The two girls fled the fumes. 
So did these, covering their mouths. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


D Lee said...

On my first visit several years ago, I ran across a street to avoid traffic and rain. At the last minute, I noticed a missing manhole cover and jumped over it. My heart skipped a beat at the near death experience. Two weeks later, the manhole had not been replaced. I was stunned that such an obvious public hazard was ignored. I'm surprised that more people haven't been killed or badly injured falling into uncovered manholes.

Miguel said...

I think we've all had similar experiences. Still, this isn't one you can blame all on the government, at least not today. According to the newspapers thousands of manhole covers are stolen every year just in Bogotá. That's tough to keep up with. The city does replace a lot of them. Blame the problem on the addicts and criminal bands which do the stealing.