14/3/2010 - Over a quarter million Mozambican men, women and children have contracted cholera. Heavy flooding in the country and in neighbouring Zimbabwe is expected to agitate the crisis.
Central Mozambique is at the height of its cholera risk season. Outbreaks throughout the country have now killed over 40 people. While the panic of the initial outbreak has subsided, the 2 600 people who are still infected remain highly contagious in this densely population country of 22.9 million people.
To make matters worse, some of the worst-affected provinces have been hard-hit by torrential rain. Flooding will hasten the spread of cholera, threatening to undo the work of health officials to contain it. Though Mozambican authorities have declared the flooding to be under control, Mozambicans living in the basins of the Zambezi, Pungue, Buzi and Licungo rivers have been living under a Red Alert, necessitating the evacuation of vulnerable populations from the immediate danger zones. At least 13 000 people have been removed to safer ground.
Much of the Mozambican population lives in extreme poverty—most of them being rural dwellers with inadequate access to sanitation. The average income is $370 per year, though many strides have been made since the end of the country’s civil war in 2003. 58% of the country’s children live in poverty, according to the national UNICEF office.
Mozambique’s western neighbour, Zimbabwe, has faced similar problems with cholera. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation services / infrastructure has facilitated the spread of cholera. Since 2008 and the outbreak of Africa’s most deadly cholera outbreak in more than a decade, over 4 000 Zimbabweans died of cholera. The outbreak spread to neighbouring southern African countries Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and of course Mozambique. Both countries face severe difficulty in maintaining clean rural and urban water piping systems, garbage disposal, and safe human waste management. Zimbabwe is also on alert for flooding dangers. The persistent combination of drought and flooding has left 2 million Zimbabweans in need of food assistance.
The conditions that precipitate cholera are the same as those which cause preventable water-borne diseases—diseases that kill 100 Zimbabwean children each day. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.6 billion people around the world lack access to improved sanitation. This leads to the deaths of roughly 2 million people from diarrhoeal diseases—90% of whom are vulnerable children.