Africa A Second Disaster: Waterborne Illnesses Hit Cyclone-Ravaged Areas
By Cinelle Barnes
Just a few weeks after Cyclone Idai fatally struck Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, Water Mission is diligently working on the ground to bring safe water to those at risk of experiencing a “second disaster,” or a post-cyclone outbreak of deadly waterborne diseases.
The number of reported cholera cases is at 1,700 as of April 3, with health officials reporting at least 200 new cases each day in the Mozambican city of Beira alone. Flooding has contaminated many water sources. This damage, combined with poor sanitation and heavy water pollution, has created an environment suitable for cholera outbreaks.
Craig Williams, Water Mission’s disaster response coordinator, recently found children digging holes in the sand with their bare hands in an area where cholera cases have been confirmed. “By digging down through the sand, they find there is water, which is a bit clearer [than that found in the watering holes]. But this is a known cholera site,” Craig told us.
Clear water does not always mean safe water. Even when water appears to be clear, it may still contain deadly contaminants. Sadly, access to safe water remains extremely limited in the areas affected by the storm.
According to Doug Lawson, Water Mission’s regional director of Kenya and Malawi programs, more than 4,100 people have been taking refuge in the Namicheni Primary School camp in Malawi. Displaced families have been relying on water trucked in by a sugarcane factory. “Water trucking is a temporary fix,” Doug explained. “The water is used quickly. Other people go to the river that is closer and is highly polluted with waste.”
Water Mission continues to mobilize in the face of such challenges, bringing safe water systems to Malawi, and disaster relief equipment and P&G water purification packets to Mozambique. At the Namicheni school, almost our entire Malawi team is busy setting up tap stands as quickly as possible to make safe water accessible to displaced individuals and relief workers alike.
But our work is just beginning. When reporting about water availability in the Namicheni camp, our staff said that people are currently forced to walk more than an hour to fetch just one unsafe container of water. One displaced woman told our team that having safe water near the camp would provide more time to repair homes, improve physical health, and even help clean their clothes.
“The little drips of water we get now are not enough. If we want more, we have to walk [a mile] to the next water source. Life is very hard for us. We want to go home but can’t. When the water recedes, we will try to rebuild, but we have very few resources,” said Zainabu Lesitula, an 18-year-old woman whose home was destroyed completely by the storm.
Water Mission continues to provide safe water, doing all that we can to protect the people of southeastern Africa from the reverberating effects of Cyclone Idai. As we install safe water systems and implement sanitation practices, we pray that our work stands as a reminder of the hope that comes after the storm.