ACT Alliance – Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Heavy rains in Angola have sparked fears a cholera epidemic in southern provinces of the country will worsen, resulting in significant loss of life.

Until recently, the Huila and Cunene provinces had been plagued by a three-year drought that left 1.83 million people with severe food shortages and resultant health problems. While the long-awaited rainfall is bringing drought relief, with it has come a rise in the number of cholera cases.

ACT members plan to start a major public health education campaign on December 16, tackling the cholera threat with water, sanitation and hygiene programmes and education on disease prevention.

Cholera emerged in Angola in 2006, with efforts to eradicate it unsuccessful. Very little improvement has been made in terms of sanitation and the distribution of drinkable water to most communities. Until now, 80,000 Angolans have been diagnosed, with 3000 having died, according to Portuguese media. The Angolan health ministry says 133 deaths were reported in three municipalities of Cunene province alone this year, 48 of which were recorded in late November.

An ACT appeal for southern Angola will, if fully funded, provide lifesaving food, drinking water and hygiene facilities rural families in Huila and Cunene, paving the way for long-term programmes to improve residents’ livelihoods and put drought-preparedness plans in place. The $740,000 appeal has a shortfall of $200,000.

André Cangovi, of ACT member the Lutheran World Federation and coordinator of the ACT group of members in Angola, says the situation for residents of the south will deteriorate as the rain continues. “People are drinking untreated water, which is really worsening the situation. The government has deployed some medical equipment and personnel but the problem is that some places are unreachable because of the flooding and mud which doesn’t allow vehicles to reach those places.” He said the government needed to airlift medical personnel and equipment to remote areas.

“The drought as such is now ending but the effect is not overcome. People have no supplies, their food stock has really disappeared and they now depend on handouts from humanitarian agencies and government.”

Some residents of Cunene and Huila moved to neighbouring Namibia or regions alongside rivers during the drought, leaving behind cattle and other livestock, many of which died. “Before the rain, the big problem was access to water. The alternative for most communities was to dig boreholes to see if they could reach the water table which had gone down so far – as low as more than 50m in some areas. Now they are getting too much water but cannot make sure it’s safe for drinking. This is what is increasing the cholera situation.”Radio broadcasts will be among the communication channels ACT members news to broadcast the sanitation message. “But the best way for our members to work is to use churches and local authorities and for local NGOs to be involved and to have contact with the communities and explain ways of mitigating the situation,” Cangovi said.