Sudanese refugees face cholera time bomb
Aid agencies fear outbreak unless sanitation in camps is improved.
Refugees from the fighting in Sudan are facing a potentially devastating outbreak of cholera, aid workers have warned. Without improved sanitation facilities at refugee camps, the disease could strike at any time, say officials at the British agency Oxfam.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes in Darfur, in the west of the country, by clashes between rival militia groups. In the past three weeks the number of refugees in the camp at Kalma has ballooned to around 60,000.
The handful of existing toilets at the camp cannot cope with the sheer numbers living there, and residents are currently forced to defecate on the ground nearby. The regular rains wash this sewage back into areas where people are living, leading to fears that it is only a matter of time before cholera strikes.
"Given the conditions these people are living in it's a serious concern," Oxfam spokesman Brendan Cox told firstname.lastname@example.org. "We haven't had any cases yet in the camps, but we're keeping an eye on it." He adds that cholera is present in neighbouring Chad, and could easily spread into Sudan.
Last month, top officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) journeyed to Darfur to survey the scene. "We must work urgently to prevent a health catastrophe," said WHO director-general Lee Jong-wook. "Many more could die in the coming weeks unless we prevent the lack of sanitation, malnutrition, shortage of clean water and the coming rains from combining into a recipe for death."
With around 300 refugees arriving at Kalma every day, aid agencies have a huge struggle on their hands. The WHO estimates that its efforts to avert a health disaster in Darfur will cost US$1.2 million per month.
Other agencies are spearheading efforts to get food, shelter and malaria protection into the camps, says Cox. But with around 250,000 people needing aid in Darfur, the need to avoid disease epidemics is paramount. "We've got our teams in place," he says. "The first priority is water and sanitation."