Saturday, April 04, 2009

Health: Fears of cholera epedemic in Cameroon as 100,000 scramble for water

People in Mbouda lined up to get water trucked in from a reservoir some 20km away

Health officials fear an epidemic of cholera in Mbouda, western Cameroon, where a dried-up reservoir has more than 100,000 people scrambling for water.

Ngouafong Pascal, head of health services in Mbouda District, 300km west of the capital Yaoundé, is worried. “Given the degradation of sanitation conditions and a history of disease outbreaks, a new epidemic could emerge.”

Ngouafong said the community recently created a local monitoring unit to signal new cases of diarrhoea and dehydration – both signs of cholera.

Local authorities are trucking in water once or twice a day from another catchment area 20km away, but it is not enough. People stand for hours in line behind the truck, jerry cans in hand. “We do not have the resources to make more trips with the [12,000 litre-capacity] truck in order to meet everyone’s needs,” Victor Toussé, secretary general of the Mbouda town council, told IRIN.

In western Cameroon the dry season – generally from mid-November to mid-March – has run longer than usual this year and water sources are drying up, according to Ngouafong and Mbouda residents.

"I have never experienced this level of dryness here," said a 10-year Mbouda resident who identified himself just as André.

The catchment basin for Mbouda is fed by rain and nearby rivers but water flow is being disrupted by a lack of rain and by farming in once-protected forest areas.

“The water supply [to Mbouda] has been entirely cut since February,” Toussé confirmed.

Some residents line up early in the morning at a few natural water sources such as streams that still flow at times, but a local environmental expert said this water is not safe for drinking because of proximity to latrines.

Health services director Ngouafong said hospitals in the area have limited their work because of a lack of water. “Outside of emergencies, hospital services have been cut down. Many surgical procedures have been suspended.”

In many neighbourhoods and hospitals toilet facilities have been shut, he said.

Tangwa Sa’a of the local environmental group Knowledge For All (KFA) told IRIN the severe water shortages in the area do not come as a surprise.

Early warning

“This situation is due partly to a lack of preparation by local authorities and partly due to their failure to pay attention to warnings by local civil society organisations,” he said.

Since 2003 KFA has sounded the alarm about the impact of desertification in the Monts Bamboutos area – the main source of water for Mbouda and neighbouring localities.

Parts of the mountain forest region, for decades preserved, is now being used for agriculture, Tangwa said.

“Once the foliage is destroyed by stripping the area for agricultural production it is normal that water would dry up,” he told IRIN. “It is absolutely necessary to identify all the causes of desertification in this mountainous region before taking any action; otherwise we will just face new natural resource shortages.”

Minister of Water and Energy Jean-Bernard Sindeu visited Mbouda on 14 March, promising to construct a closed well to reinforce local water supply.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright Reinnier Kazé
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits