Andrew Buncombe: War on mosquitoes in fight to get Delhi ready for Games

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The Independent Online

If the fate of the Commonwealth Games depends on the efforts of people such as Sanjay Kumar, then one can take comfort from the attention to which the young man was giving his work.

As teams of cleaners set about fixing the athletes' village – removing human faeces, repairing plumbing and generally making the apartments habitable – the 23-year-old was last night busy outside the complex trying to deal with another major problem: mosquitoes. With a plastic tank of insecticide strapped to his back, the slightly built man was part of a team spraying the area next to a metro station adjacent to the complex. "We're trying to control the breeding of the mosquitoes," said Mr Kumar, who was hired three weeks ago by the Delhi authorities.

Of all of the problems confronting the organisers, the pesky mosquito deserves a special category. More than 2,000 people have fallen sick to dengue fever this summer, and peak season for the disease-spreading mosquitoes coincides with the start of the event. A number of athletes who have pulled out of the games have cited health concerns for their decision.

Close to where Mr Kumar was working stood a large yellow hoarding sign in Hindi which read: "Keep your surroundings clean."

The young man was doing his best to follow such commands, but monsoon rains have left pools of stinking water sitting stagnant in stadiums and other facilities across the city. Parts of the games village itself are also flooded.

Inside the village, officials were resorting to more aggressive methods, using machines to create huge clouds of anti-mosquito smoke that drifted across the verdant green track that is to be used for practice laps by runners. The smoke scared off a scraggy stray dog that had been taking the opportunity to limber up, under the eye of armed police and security personnel.

Officials insisted that work was under way to clean and complete the apartments to be used by athletes, though spooked by the efforts of several journalists earlier in the week who slipped in to take a rather unsettling look for themselves, they had ruled that the clean-up operation was off-limits to the press. One sensed that from the very highest level the word had gone out: we need to get this done.

One of those who will bear responsibility if things do not get completed is Sheila Dikshit, Delhi's chief minister and a woman who has been – either willingly or otherwise – a leading cheerleader for the event.

Yesterday evening, with the stadium lights throwing shadows across the grass, she emerged from a meeting to step into her official white Ambassador car, forcing a smile when confronted by another reporter.

"We are very confident," she told The Independent. "But we have a lot of things to tie up and are working very hard to do that."

Mr Kumar was also hoping for the best. Though he had been working for three weeks, he had not yet been paid a rupee and was not even sure how much he was to earn. In addition, he had also suffered a number of bites from mosquitoes. "We are putting in our hard work," he explained. "We want the games to happen."