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Cholera outbreaks in DRC refugee camps

Guardian’s Africa correspondent, Chris McGreal, talks about the state of refugee camps in Kibati, DRC

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Story Transcript

Kibati, North Kivu region, DRC

VOICEOVER: Kibati camp’s just north of Goma. It’s become a focal point for many of the refugees that have fled the areas now under Laurent Nkunda’s control. Many of those that have come in have come directly from villages that they fled ahead of the Tutsi rebel advance. It’s a fairly well-established camp. It’s dealt with many more people in the past than are there now, so it’s not particularly over-crowded. Cholera’s the immediate concern. There’s been a few score of cases, and Médecins sans Frontières’ officers are concerned that it could spread. There have also been a couple of cases in Goma itself. The big nightmare is a recurrence of what happened in 1994 with the Rwandan Hutu refugees. Back then, 40,000 people died in a matter of weeks, and they’re buried in mass graves that you can actually see from Kibati. But few of the people who are down there know that they’re there.

MEGANE HUNTER, PROJECT COORDINATOR, MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES: Since Friday, which is now four days ago, we’ve had about 48 cases that we strongly suspect of being cholera through our cholera treatment center. We are concerned about the situation in the camp because hygiene conditions are not very good, and cholera is a disease that is spread much more quickly when hygiene conditions are bad. And so, when there are not enough latrines, if people do not have enough access to clean water that they can properly wash their hands [in], they are at much more risk to get cholera than if they live in good hygienic conditions. So, because of that, we are concerned about this increase in cases that we’ve seen.

VOICEOVER: There are some fundamental differences from ’94. Firstly, they don’t have the sheer numbers of people. Secondly, the crucial issue is that fresh water’s available, and eventually, you know, cholera’s a disease that you amongst other things die of from lack of fresh water. And thirdly, that the refugees themselves are in better condition: they haven’t been marching for weeks on end; although they’re hungry, they now have access to food, so they have a stronger immune system. But it’s true that disease is the biggest killer as a direct consequence of the war, because of the destruction of health clinics, because people are undernourished. Armed groups take their food. So people are often in quite poor condition in general in North Kivu. I’ve spoken to quite a number of refugees over the past couple of weeks, and people live in perpetual fear moving around. There was one family I spoke to where they have come and lived in three different villages in the past two years, and they were now on the edge of Goma, and they have literally nowhere left for them to go.

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