Dakar/ Geneva/Abuja — More than 5.6 million children are at increased risk of contracting waterborne diseases, such as cholera and diarrheal infections, as the rainy season begins in conflict-affected areas of countries around Lake Chad, UNICEF warned today. 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.
"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," said Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "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 mosquitos. Staving off disease is our top priority."
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.
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. 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. UNICEF adapts methodologies based on community needs to deliver clean water and sanitation in the multiple and complex situations where children are living.
Across the Lake Chad region, UNICEF and its partners are working 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. 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.
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.