AID helps avert feared Mozambique cholera epidemic

By Allan Seccombe

MAPUTO, March 23 (Reuters) - A U.N. agency said on Thursday that a feared cholera epidemic was being averted in flood- ravaged Mozambique, despite a doubling in the number of cases of disease reported in the capital.

The United Nations Childrens' Emergency Fund said the number of cases of cholera had reached 400 in Maputo, with five deaths. In other parts of the impoverished southern African state the figures were normal for the time of year.

"It has been good management and good luck that no epidemic has broken out," UNICEF spokesman Ian MacLeod told Reuters in Maputo, amid fears of new floods.

The official death toll after nearly two months of ruinous rains rose to 640 on Wednesday, but aid agencies believe the true figure could be much higher.

Diseases like cholera, malaria, conjunctivitis, measles and diarrhoea are endemic in Mozambique but aid workers worry that the swirling waters could turn them into raging epidemics.

To prevent cholera and other water-borne diseases, aid agencies have handed out soap, water purification sets and instruction on personal hygiene alongside food and medicine to hundreds of thousands of people in 121 camps.

The apparently high number of 1,400 cases of cholera reported in central Sofala is in fact about the same figure as last year. Most of Sofala's cases are in Mozambique's second city of Beira.

"Apart from the Sofala province, we haven't had reports of cholera," said MacLeod.

But fear is rife of new floods and new disease.

Aid workers in Mozambique said about 10,000 people had fled homes in Chokwe in the Limpopo River valley over recent days amid warnings of fresh floods after rivers flowing out of South Africa and Zimbabwe were swollen by heavy rains.

The fear of rising rivers has delayed UNICEF's programme to instal new water pumps and purification systems. Diseases thrive in dirty water.

Despite the efforts to provide food to displaced people, MacLeod said there were still serious concerns about malnutrition, which makes children vulnerable to illness.

"In the camps it is easy to monitor children, but when people move back to towns and villages malnutrition will be hidden and it will be harder to monitor," he said.

In Pretoria, ministers from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa attending a meeting on regional disaster management pledged to keep a close watch on the flooding that has driven half a million Mozambicans from their homes.

"Before these floods, we knew there would be heavy rains, but no one could predict the amount of water, the size of the tragedy," said Mozambican Transport Minister Alfonso Fernando.

Mozambique appealed on Wednesday for a further $100 million for flood relief and rehabilitation.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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