An outbreak of cholera/acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) in Somaliland has killed 28 people in the last ten days and hospitalized a further 167 people. The outbreak has devastated remote communities in the drought-ravaged region. More than 411 cases of cholera/AWD have been reported in Somaliland since the beginning of April.
The vulnerable children and adults, already struggling to cope with malnutrition and food insecurity caused in large part by the failure of 2016’s two rainy seasons, were struck down by the deadly disease after drinking contaminated water.
Twelve of the deaths were in the Taleex area, about 160km from Las Anod, with fourteen fatalities recorded in Buhodle, near the border with Ethiopia. People suffering from cholera/AWD were admitted to the Buhodle Clinic, which is run by the SRCS Somaliland.
“This outbreak is frightening, as the people of Somaliland are already weakened by the drought and by lack of food,” said Abdirasaq Ali Duran, SRCS Somaliland Tracing assistant at Buhodle sub-branch.
“Drought doesn’t just cause thirst, hunger and death – it causes diseases like acute diarrhoea, because people are so desperate for water that they’ll drink from heavily contaminated streams or puddles.”
In neighbouring Puntland, the numbers are just as concerning. Since the beginning of the year there have been more than 1,600 cases of cholera/AWD with 57 deaths.
Dr Julie Hall, IFRC’s Director of Health says that during the 2011 famine in Somalia, tens of thousands of people suffering from hunger died from preventable and treatable diseases like diarrhoea.
“What often stands between hunger and death is disease. We must move quickly to stop the spread of disease and provide those affected with treatment. Diseases haunt those who are hungry – we can fight this,” said Dr Hall.
Most of the population in the affected parts of Somaliland are pastoralist and agro-pastoralist, and have been hit hard by the ongoing drought. Many have brought their surviving animals to Dhumay and Xalin, where the only water is from contaminated open wells and springs.
Dakir Mohamoud Warsame, Las Anod Branch Secretary of SRCS Somaliland, said: “The situation is getting worse and the number is increasing sharply. We are sending extra medical teams to support the people.”
Highly-trained community-based medical volunteers provide oral rehydration salts to sick children and adults, provide health check-ups, and refer sick people to local hospitals for intensive treatment. They will also raise awareness of the dangers of cholera/AWD, and give communities information on how to prevent its transmission through improved hygiene and sanitation.
In support of life-saving efforts like these, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is preparing to expand its support to the Somali Red Crescent Society, building on its existing 3.3 million Swiss franc emergency operation.
The food crisis in Somalia is growing more serious by the day. Well over half the population – 6.2 million people – need urgent humanitarian assistance; 2.9 million people face crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity, and 363,000 children are already suffering from acute malnutrition.