Fears of disease outbreaks follow the tropical cyclone in Somalia

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More than one week after a tropical cyclone tore through the Puntland region in Somalia, fears are emerging of an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Kwame Darko, health delegate for the Somalia delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the cyclone caused serious damage to vital infrastructure. “Many wells in the provinces of Eyl and Dangorayo collapsed during the storm. There are also numerous dead livestock lying around. This has contaminated the water sources for thousands of people,” he said. “We need to ensure clean drinking water is made available for those affected by the cyclone, otherwise there is a very strong chance we will start seeing cases of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases.”

More than 100 people are confirmed dead, and hundreds more are missing, after heavy flooding washed away roads, homesteads and fishing boats, leaving entire villages submerged under contaminated water. It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of livestock in the areas were killed. Those that survived are showing signs of ill health. The government has declared a state of emergency and appealed for international assistance.

With many areas inaccessible, it has been challenging to accurately assess the situation, however, as is the case following most disasters, immediate needs remain shelter, food, clean water and health care.

The Somalia Red Crescent Society has deployed two mobile medical health teams to support the Ministry of Health and, together with community volunteers, is providing various health care services, including first aid, psychosocial support and hygiene promotion. The National Society is also providing survivors with health care services in three maternal and child health clinics in Eyl and Dogoyoro – two of the most affected communities – as well as Qarhis.

“Over the course of three days, the intervention team treated 757 people, most of them for skin-related diseases and acute respiratory infections,” said Darko. “The team has also seen 14 cases of malaria in the areas of Labiedaab and Dirwerane villages, and has had to move in extra supplies as there was a shortage of materials available to treat these patients.”

Twenty-two volunteers and staff have received training on how to conduct assessments to determine the true nature of the current situation, which will help shape the response in coming weeks. The Somalia Red Crescent Society is receiving support from IFRC through the release of more than 67,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund. The funds are being used to assist staff and volunteers in conducting assessments, and to provide emergency supplies, health care and water, initially, to 300 families in four highly affected districts, as well as those not yet assisted in the most affected ‘triangle’ of Dongoyoro-Eyl-Bander Beyla.

Last weekend, a shipment of emergency supplies was airlifted into the Puntland region from IFRC’s warehouse in Nairobi.

“What is unfolding in Somalia is what we call a ‘silent’ disaster,” said Darko. “It is smaller than a large scale disaster and casualties are fewer. It also fails to capture the attention of the international community. However, talk to those Somali families who no longer have a home because of this cyclone, and they will tell you, this is not a ‘silent’ disaster. It is our responsibility to make their voices heard.”