DR Congo

DR Congo: IRC responds to cholera in conflict-affected North Kivu

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Goma, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo 14 Nov 2008 - The International Rescue Committee's water and sanitation team has been carrying out cholera prevention and response in war-affected North Kivu, seeking to limit the spread of the disease in high population centers.

"Cholera is endemic, or cyclical, in certain areas of North Kivu; but the most recent fighting and population displacement increased risk," said Leon Tizie, IRC environmental health program manager.

The IRC has been responding to cyclical cholera since January; these activities were expanded in the first week of November, after widespread displacement in and around Goma.

IRC teams have been working in the Ngungu and Kitchanga areas, putting in place chlorination points to ensure access to safe water, disinfecting homes and latrines in affected areas, and carrying out door-to-door hygiene sensitization.

Ngungu, directly west of Goma across the northern tip of Lake Kivu, is home to around 15,000 displaced civilians. Three IRC technical staff members are working on prevention of cholera spread in the area, which is not typically a site where cholera is endemic.

Lack of safe drinking water sources in Ngungu, combined with a crowded displaced population, facilitated the spread of cholera. Five weeks ago, when the IRC first started its response in Ngungu, 135 cases were reported there. This week, only five cases were reported.

The IRC has four technical staff responding in Kitchanga, where two camps house around 30,000 people. The number of cases has hit a plateau in Kitchanga, while the IRC continues preventative measures and training for community members who help with in sensitization.

"It's easier to respond in fixed sites," explained the IRC's Tizie. "As people move due to insecurity and fighting, we face additional challenges to respond and follow the spread of cholera."

Near Goma, where cholera is endemic, civilians risk transporting the disease as they move between camps and town sites. This makes prevention and early detection critical. IRC teams have been involved in emergency cholera response within Goma over the past two weeks.

Massive displacement in North Kivu has been the result of violent fighting between the Congolese government and rebel forces let by Gen. Laurent Nkunda.

The IRC's emergency interventions in North Kivu are addressing urgent needs, including provision of safe water and sanitation services, support to health facilities, relief distribution, emergency education interventions, and prevention and response activities for civilians exposed to sexual violence.