24 June 2017

West Africa: 5.6 Million Children in Lake Chad Region At Risk of Waterborne Diseases As Rainy Season Starts - Unicef

Photo: UNEP
Lake Chad was once the second-largest wetland in Africa, supporting a rich diversity of endemic animals and plant life. .

As the rainy season begins, United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has warned that more than 5.6 million children are at increased risk of contracting waterborne diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea infections, in conflict-affected areas of countries around Lake Chad.

The humanitarian agency said in a statement Saturday that the threat of disease outbreaks in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria coincides with growing regional insecurity and increased population movements particularly in Nigeria's northeast.

Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said the rains will further complicate what is already a dire humanitarian situation, as millions of children made vulnerable by conflict are now facing the potential spread of diseases.

"Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions can lead to cholera outbreaks and to Hepatitis E, a deadly disease for pregnant women and their babies, while standing water pools can attract malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Staving off disease is our top priority," it said.

Flooding and muddy roads are expected to severely limit humanitarian access to remote areas for several weeks, just as the needs of children and families are sharply on the rise because of heightened insecurity across the region.

According to the agency, in Nigeria, security concerns have made it difficult to preposition supplies ahead of the rains and UNICEF is concerned about the availability of clean water for large numbers of people returning from Cameroon.

While in the Diffa region of Niger, 150,000 people are living in makeshift shelters and will be exposed to heavy rains and unsanitary conditions.

Ms. Poirier said the 5.6 million children in need in the Lake Chad region are spread across the four countries in varied living conditions from host communities to camps for internally displaced and refugees.

"We adapts methodologies based on community needs to deliver clean water and sanitation in the multiple and complex situations where children are living, she added.

UNICEF said they are working with its partners across the Lake Chad region, in communities at higher risk of cholera outbreaks to teach families about the effects of the disease and practical steps like hand washing to help avoid infection.

While in Niger, Cameroon and Chad, essential drugs and bars of soap have been prepositioned in warehouses close to IDP camps in case of a cholera outbreak.

According to the agency, the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene response in the Lake Chad Basin has received less than 20% of the US$80 million required to meet urgent needs in 2017.

"Despite the lack of funding, this year UNICEF leading the WASH cluster in the crisis, aims to provide 2.7 million people with a basic supply of water needed to survive," UNICEF said.

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