SomaliPress.com

Health Fears Follow Floods in Zambia

Published on Monday 12th April 2010

As the heavy rains subside, signifying the end of the rainy season, a cholera outbreak is sweeping through the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

Humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), issued an alert on Apr. 9 concerning a cholera epidemic that has swept the city.

"Over the last five weeks, the number of cholera cases has risen dramatically, to more than 4,500, while more than 120 people have lost their live," said Luke Arend, head of mission for MSF in Zambia.

"Last week we suffered the peak of the outbreak with a total of 1054 cases admitted. This number of cholera cases is by far the highest recorded in the last decade."

The government's initial response to the epidemic was to deny it. Even as the media reported a rising death toll from cholera in February, the ministry of health maintained there was no outbreak.

Some seventeen districts across the country have been affected, but Lusaka is the worst hit. Most of Lusaka's slightly more than three million people live in its 38 informal settlements. These shanty neighbourhoods suffer cholera outbreaks each year as torrential rains quickly fill pit latrines and contaminate wells with raw sewage. Large areas of the city are not serviced by the municipality, which asserts that they are unplanned settlements.

Even in areas where the municipality has a presence, the drainage system is clogged making it prone to flooding after even relatively light rain. Market places are filthy, with mountains of garbage piled high. Public toilets are few and far between, and where they do exist they are in deplorable condition.

This year's flooding - the worst in several decades - comes despite major investment in repairing the city's drainage system over the past year. Despite the remedial work, thousands of people in the city's densely-populated townships have been displaced.

The Zambia Red Cross Society admits that the situation is bad. Charles Mushitu, who directs the Zambian Red Cross, says his organisation has had to pitch more tents at a campsite just outside the city. The site is operated jointly by the Red Cross and the government's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) which is providing basic services such as maize meals and chlorine to purify drinking water.

The authorities in the Zambian capital have asked those who received temporary shelter to move back to their homes, even though in many cases their houses have collapsed and their livelihoods have been destroyed.

Esther Lungu is worried about returning to her home in the Misisi quarter. Lungu was among several families relocated to the Red Cross campsite when a nearby dam overflowed and her compound was submerged.

She and her four children were given a tent by the Red Cross and she says she has been relatively comfortable.

"I don't know what will happen when they tell us to leave this place," says Lungu, who is not married and has no formal employment. Before the disaster, she sold vegetables at the market to sustain her family.

But now she is worried as she does not know if the small hut she was renting is still standing. She is also not sure she will still be able to reclaim her market stand when she returns.

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