In Angola, fresh water saves many threatened by cholera outbreak
1 June 2006
By Brigitte Stark-Merklein
LUANDA, Angola, – Surrounded by buckets, cans and plastic basins, Susana Meto and Catarina Figuereiro can hardly keep up with the demand at a roadside water distribution point in Boa Vista, one of Luanda’s shantytowns.
Angola’s worst cholera outbreak started here in February and spread quickly to other parts of the country. It was largely due to overcrowding, a shortage of clean water and poor sanitation.
Earlier last month, between 500 and 700 new cases were reported daily in Luanda. Today, the mood at the Boa Vista water distribution point is much more optimistic.
“We had many deaths in this neighbourhood,” says Ms. Figuereiro who, like Ms. Meto, is a member of the block association that helps with the water distribution. “But there are much fewer now and luckily, nobody in my family got sick.”
Stopping an epidemic
UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other key partners have supported government efforts to stop the epidemic by distributing clean drinking water, chlorine to purify water, emergency medical supplies and social mobilization material.
Ms. Figuereiro attributes the decline in deaths to the supply of safe water and door-to-door campaigns by volunteers who distribute soap, bleach and leaflets telling families how to avoid cholera and what to do when someone falls ill.
Yet cholera is persisting – and while the number of cases in Luanda and the other most affected provinces is decreasing, the epidemic continues to spread to new parts of the country. So far, the disease has infected almost 40,000 people and killed almost 1,500. The government reports around 300 new cases each day; more than 35 per cent of those are estimated to be children under five.
UNICEF continues to work with government and other partners to battle the disease and is accelerating both technical assistance and provision of supplies to Luanda and provincial authorities. Several donors have pledged additional funding to support UNICEF’s efforts to contain the outbreak.
Crisis is a ‘wake-up call’
According to UNICEF and WHO, 50 per cent of Angolans do not have access to safe water, and only 30 per cent are using adequate sanitation facilities. Because of 27 years of war here, millions of displaced people live in deplorable conditions in overcrowded slums.
“The cholera outbreak in Angola is a painful reminder of the threat facing more than 1 billion people who have no access to clean water sources worldwide,” says UNICEF Senior Programme Officer Akhil Iyer. “And, as is the case far too often, it’s the young who suffer most.”
Mr. Iyer says the crisis should be a “wake-up call” to the world: “We have to act now if we want to meet the United Nations Millennium Goal to cut by half the number of people without clean water and sanitation by the year 2015.”
In Porto Pesqueiro, down the road from the Boa Vista water distribution point, an empty emergency water tank is baking in the sun next to a line of empty canisters. A group of children playing on a garbage dump nearby say there hasn’t been any water for two days.
“But the water truck will come soon,” they say confidently.
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