Uganda: Water shortages worsen health problems in north

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Originally published
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KAMPALA, 12 July (IRIN) - A lack of water in war-ravaged northern Uganda has caused an increase in water-borne diseases, the medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-Holland, said on Monday.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps in the northern district of Lira were living on less than three litres of water per person per day, MSF said in a statement.

"The internationally acceptable standards are 15 litres per person per day," Peter Muller, head of mission for MSF in the capital, Kampala, told IRIN while on a visit to the northern district of Kitgum.

MSF said morbidity data from its clinics in Lira district showed that diarrhoea, at 12 percent of cases, was the second most common ailment after malaria, while 6 percent of patients had worms, another water-related ailment.

Despite the recent rise in Lira's IDP population from 120,000 to 170,000 after people moved from camps near the main town of Lira to rural camps closer to their villages, district authorities have made no major improvements to water supply.

The MSF statement said IDPs were limited to two means of accessing the inadequate water supply: they could either queue for more than three hours at one of the water points in the camps, or venture outside, where they risked being attacked by the notoriously brutal rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

"As a result, people collect contaminated water from the streets when it is raining, and from rivers and springs that surround the camps, leading to an increase of water-related illnesses," the agency noted.

Government officials said since the beginning of June, at least 38 people had died from cholera in four areas across the country, including Kampala.

"The death toll in Arua district [northwestern Uganda] has gone up to 24 by today [Monday], with 204 cases reported," said Alfred Driwale, medical officer of the government intervention and coordination effort in Arua.

Three people had died in the capital and four in the northwestern district of Nebbi, while seven more, including two government soldiers, had died in the northern district of Gulu, where 690 cases have been reported, mainly in the IDP camps.

According to MSF, the displaced population in the north faced major sanitation problems: almost a quarter had no access to a latrine, and those who did had to share it with at least 60 other people. "Waste management is virtually nonexistent and the burning of waste poses serious fire hazards to the grass-roofed huts in the dry season."

The agency said it had started improving the water and sanitation situation by drilling 28 boreholes, repairing hand pumps and rehabilitating springs to increase the amount of safe drinking water, while constructing waste pumps and building more than 3,000 latrines to establish hygienic sanitary facilities in Lira district.

The LRA has waged a 19-year war against the government of President Yoweri Museveni, a conflict that has driven an estimated 1.6 million people from their homes into IDP camps scattered across Uganda's northern and eastern regions. The LRA claim they want to replace the government with one based on Biblical teachings.


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