Spring rains have brought disastrous flooding to the countries of Kenya and Somalia.
Rivers have overflowed their banks, and many small towns and villages have been wiped out. The flooding has also destroyed farmer’s crops, leaving the farmers and their families with nothing to come back to.
Even before the severe floods, local farmers dealt with difficult living conditions. Now, in the face of a natural disaster, the farmers cannot afford to simply “rebuild” those crops. Unfortunately, over 475,000 people are in makeshift shelters in refugee camps, and more than 100 have died as a result.
But, the worst might still come in the form of a cholera outbreak.
The Kenya Red Cross Secretary General, Abbas Gullet, told reporters, “we would urge the national government to declare this a national disaster.” The general added that this could help bring much-needed resources and help to the local people.
These devastating conditions mean that hospitals are not easily accessible, and some are impossible to get to. Medical supplies also become insufficient, if available at all. Bandages, antiseptic washes and other medical necessities are often the first to run out.
Basic items are also run dangerously low. We’ve seen in places like Haiti that without items like clean food, sanitary toilet facilities and clean drinking water, cholera spreads even faster.
According to The Telegraph, the latrines used in refugee camps are already overflowing. This results in sewage that spreads throughout the camp.
Cholera is a food and water-borne disease. When the items get infected with contaminated feces, cholera can spread.
With the sewage seeping all over the refugee camps, it will contaminate any food and water that is not stored in a closed in an air-tight container. Individuals who consume these foods and drink unsanitary water are at extremely high risk of cholera. This is why having a clean environment, with sanitary food preparation is vital in these refugee camps.
The flooding makes the uncertainty of the potential outbreak worse. The high waters in the region are only expected to rise, with steady rain forecasts throughout May. Many of the main highways in the towns and cities will be further blocked by the flood waters.
There is limited medical assistance available. Even if it were readily available, the supplies would have to be in waterproof wrapping and air-lifted to the camps. Authorities fear that proper medications will not arrive in time to save those who are getting sick from the disease.
“With limited access to proper toilets and clean water, it’s a ticking time bomb for disease outbreaks like cholera and malaria,” said Victor Moses. Moses is the country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The cholera vaccine can help travelers stay free of the disease. The current vaccine offers the most reliable prevention against cholera.
Along with the vaccines, anyone in a cholera-endemic country should use extra sanitary practices to avoid the disease.
Only drink water that is bottled or you know is purified. Make sure all food is properly cleaned or cooked. The heat from cooking can help kill any of the cholera bacteria. Also, make sure to wash your hands after any possible cholera contact.
Written for Passport Health by Sabrina Cortes. Sabrina is a freelance writer with a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgian Court University. She currently lives in the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina.