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Water shortage increases cholera toll

A boy plants a flower after taking a swim in pools formed by rain waters in the Mathare slums, Kenya. March 2008 the photo won first place in the "Friends of Earth' international photo competition.
A boy plants a flower after a swim, Mathare slums, Kenya. March 2008 (Julius Mwelu/IRIN)

An acute water shortage in parts of eastern and northeastern Kenya is fuelling the spread of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) and cholera, with deaths from new cases being reported, a senior health official has said.

"People are resorting to drinking water from anywhere because of the shortage," Shahnaaz Sharif, director of public health in the Ministry of Public Health, told IRIN.

"Recently, four deaths have been reported in Garbatulla [District] where about 280 AWD cases have been reported in the last three weeks," Sharif said, adding that samples from those affected had been collected for laboratory testing.

Three new cholera cases have also been reported in Laisamis District and two in Moyale District.

"In total, 24 cholera deaths and 1,452 cases of diarrhoea have been recorded since January," he said. Cholera is an acute, diarrhoeal illness. Although infection is often mild, death can occur within hours without treatment, due to dehydration.

According to a resident of Laisamis, Mohamed Kochalle, some of those affected are self-medicating using traditional herbs, as they cannot access health facilities.

Hundreds treated

Hundreds of patients have been treated for diarrhoea and vomiting in Malkadaka in Garbatulla District and Bullesa in Isiolo, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and health officials.

This is worsening the plight of the region's inhabitants who are already facing a severe drought, said KRCS communications manager Titus Mung'ou, adding that medical drugs, health personnel and volunteers have been mobilized to help contain the outbreak in Garbatulla.

"Our organization has recruited volunteers to support the relief teams in Garbatulla... We have provided drugs and consumables but our efforts are faced with a lot of challenges including [a] shortage of personnel and financial resources..." he said.

Mung'ou said the disease is increasing the number of people in need of relief assistance and worsening food insecurity in the region.

A lack of food is also affecting adherence to treatment regimes. "We have requested food aid; it must be provided urgently for the control measures to work... Food assistance will also encourage treatment," Lordman Lekulkulai of the Arid Lands Resource Management office in Isiolo said.

Inadequate sanitation

Inadequate sanitation has exacerbated the situation. "We only have one toilet for 600 pupils. It is the main reason why our school has been affected," Sora Boru, a head teacher at Bullesa primary school in Isiolo, told IRIN. "Many children have [not] reported for school... Parents are keeping them at home."

Hygiene awareness campaigns have been intensified in the water-scarce region.

According to Yussuf Ali, a trader, the price of bottled water has increased. "A half litre [bottle] of water is selling at Ksh.100 [about US$1.3]... even higher than petrol."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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