8 March 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: Cholera Epidemic Threatens Goma

Photo: Paco Arevalo/MSF
A young cholera victim receives treatment (file photo).

Goma — A month-long water shortage in Goma has led to an outbreak of cholera. Poorer neighbourhoods are suffering in this city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cholera outbreaks regularly occur in Goma, capital of the DRC's Northern Kivu province. Yet, in the past few weeks the disease has spread rapidly, claiming over 50 lives.

"Because of the shortage of clean water, we have to use the water from the lake for our daily drinking, cooking and washing. In our neighbourhood, three children and four women have already succumbed to the disease," says Virginie Kahambu (30).

Lake Kivu is two kilometres away. This makes Kahambu's trip a time-consuming one. Her four-year-old daughter, who has been put on a drip, appears dehydrated, slowly recovering from acute diarrhoea caused by cholera.

Utilities dispute

"Since the Rwandan refugee camps in 1994, where cholera was widespread, Lake Kivu has been a breeding ground for the cholera bacteria," says Dr Dominique Baabo, the provincial health inspector for North Kivu. "When there is a water shortage and people are forced to use the water from the lake, there is always a new cholera outbreak."

The current water shortage is said to be the result of national water company REGIDESO's failure to pay its electricity bill, which compelled national electricity company SNEL to cut its power supply.

According to provincial REGIDESO director Déogratias Kizibisha Kabiona, the water shortage is caused by a failing pump.

Today, more than 300 million Africans lack access to clean water.

No choice

Whatever the cause, the lives of Goma residents remain at stake. The price of a jerrycan of clean water has tripled. People are forced to rise at dawn every day to go to the lake for water - contaminated water.

"What can we do?" says 16-year-old Solange Murkandiwa, who gets up at 5 a.m. to see after her family's daily supply. "We don't have a choice. It's the water from the lake or no water at all. People cannot afford to buy bottled water every day."

Treatment is free

If diagnosed and treated at an early stage, cholera can be cured fairly easily. However, patients rarely go to hospital, since they're unaware of the condition's seriousness. A cholera patient can die from dehydration in just a few hours.

Many people also don't know that cholera treatment is free in most of Goma's hospitals.

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