Burundi - Cholera adds to problems in "regroupment" sites

News and Press Release
Originally published
The continuing insecurity throughout much of Burundi, together with the government policy of "regroupement" - moving rural populations from their own homes into designated "sites" - is taking its toll on more than a quarter of a million people in Bujumbura Rural province alone. A cholera epidemic has now been reported in some regroupement sites.
According to Ministry of Health figures released on 10th December, 9 people have died since it started on 20th November. However, humanitarian agencies working in two of the affected sites, Ruziba and Kabezi, put the number of deaths at 24, with 275 cases reported so far.

Kabezi, 20 kms south of the capital, Bujumbura, is one of at least 325 sites in the country, and host to 37,000 local people - allegedly for their own protection. However, like other sites, Kabezi lacked adequate facilities to cope with the September influx. The local authorities have turned to humanitarian agencies for assistance, among them, the Red Cross. "Burundi Red Cross volunteers worked overtime to construct shelters and dig latrines, as well as to provide non-food items," says Jean Charles Dupin, Head of Delegation, "but the needs were far greater than the limited stocks available."

With support from the Federation, the Burundian Red Cross has been distributing blankets from the Danish RC, jerry cans and soap from the Finnish RC and tarpaulins and plastic sheeting, donated by ECHO, at various sites where the flimsy mud and banana leaf structures give little protection during the rainy season. Burundi RC volunteers have also built communal centres to house the most vulnerable (the elderly, women and children). Other Burundi RC activities include spraying disinfectant to combat the spread of cholera and malaria, as well as hygiene education and participation in nutritional surveys.

Seven Burundi Red Cross volunteers live at the Kabezi site to provide round the clock assistance. "Their presence - on site - helps us respond to the needs of the most vulnerable," says Christine Miturumbwe, Secretarary General of the Burundi RC. Five of these volunteers, community health workers, are assisting at the Ruziba site - in hygiene education, cleaning and distribution of soap and chlorine. Up to 34 community health workers could be made available - allowing one per 500 people - and two isolation centres built to treat cholera victims.

By weighing and measuring some of the thousands of children in Kabezi, the Burundi RC gains an indication of the health situation. Apart from the cholera outbreak, there is no immediate cause for concern, although the lack of access to health facilities and only limited visits to harvest their crops, the outlook for Kabezi's inhabitants is very uncertain. Crowded conditions have already contributed to the spread of disease.

=A91997 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies