Catastrophe looms from cholera epidemic in Congo

A cholera epidemic in a displaced persons’ camp in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could explode into a humanitarian catastrophe unless urgent measures are taken to halt growing insecurity and harassment by government troops that are causing residents to flee, spreading the deadly bacteria, a United Nations official warned today.

“The cholera epidemic can be contained if people remain in Kakwa camp, where they have access to life-saving medical treatment,” said the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the DRC, Jahal de Meritens. He called restoration of security in Kakwa, home to over 25,000 people, an urgent priority.

“However growing insecurity is forcing them to leave the area, taking the deadly cholera bacteria with them,” he added, noting that the displaced people, among 100,000 who have fled vicious ethnic fighting in the Ituri region, fear deteriorating security after the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) handed over protection of Kakwa to the Congolese army on Monday.

“FARDC troops have limited logistical support, and are thus preying on the very population they were sent to protect,” he said, using the French acronym for the army.

MONUC also withdrew from Tché camp yesterday, handing over security to FARDC.

“Should this disease now take hold in Tché camp, and in Tchomia town, we could be confronted with a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. de Meritens declared. Over 35,000 displaced people are currently sheltering in the two areas. “Even Bunia town (Ituri’s capital) could be threatened by this epidemic, should infected people not find a safe haven with access to medical care and clean water elsewhere in the region,” he said.

Humanitarian workers confirmed 54 cases of cholera in Kakwa on Wednesday, with the number significantly increasing as each day passes. Other cases are now being reported in Tché and Tchomia, most likely spread by those fleeing. One death has been recorded.

Nearly 100,000 people are receiving emergency humanitarian assistance in the Territory of Djugu, Ituri, after fleeing violence that flared in late 2004, one of the last major combat zones in the DRC’s long-running civil wars and ethnic conflicts.

From United Nations

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