NU scientists come closer to solving the mystery of the ‘sleepy’ village of Kalachi

A team of Nazarbayev University scientists led by Professor-epidemiologist Byron Crape, who has been researching the causes of “sleeping sickness” in Kalachi for a long time, put forward their hypothesis about why the villagers were falling into sudden hibernation from late 2012 to October 2015.

“In our study of Kalachi syndrome, we applied a scientific modeling method to find patterns. We have studied in detail the difference between those who fell ill with “sleeping sickness” and those who did not. Over the course of a long-term analysis, we excluded dozens of hypotheses stating that the disease could be associated with food, chronic diseases or bad habits of the villagers. But then we found out that all residents of Kalachi drink water from one source – from an underground pump of a local resident who pumps it and sells it to his fellow villagers. Of course, water was bought for money, so pets were not given this water. The animals drank the river water, which explains why they did not hibernate,” said Professor Crape.

Scientists came to the conclusion that the water was most likely poisoned with chemicals. Chemical intoxication of the body is often accompanied by symptoms similar to those described by the residents of Kalachi – dizziness, weakness, a feeling of “drunkenness” and even hallucinations.

“Chemicals could have infiltrated drinking water through uranium mines that have been abandoned since the late 1980s. The military could have dumped chemical waste there, using the deposits as spontaneous dumps. There is a possibility that chemical weapons were being developed there, and waste chemicals were buried in the ground,” said Professor Crape.

The scientist said that during the Soviet era, chemical waste was often disposed of in barrels. The metal of those barrels rusts over time, the barrels leak, and as a result, the poison enters the groundwater. This scenario most likely came true in the village of Kalachi. According to the scientist, for the entire period of the disease from the end of 2012 to 2015.

Since village dwellers do not have the symptoms of the “sleeping sickness” anymore, the only way to confirm or refute the scientists’ hypothesis is by entering uranium mines. However, It is too dangerous to go down there – the old deposit can collapse at any moment.

Therefore, scientists are planning to build a special drone together with the School of Engineering and Digital Sciences, and then use the device in mines and take samples.