348508_44124480466@N01.jpg Sudanese baby Africa Oil Watch: Darfur epidemic fuels fear of camp closures

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Darfur epidemic fuels fear of camp closures

Copy of Telegraph's report by David Blair in El Geneina (Filed: 11/08/2004):

Darfur's desperate refugees have been struck by a new blight, with the United Nations reporting yesterday that hundreds of people have fallen victim to an epidemic of hepatitis E.

Aid workers in Darfur see this as the most serious threat to the camps since the onset of the refugee crisis in western Sudan last year. Some 480 people are reported to have the disease. The fear is that Sudan's regime could use the outbreak as an excuse for closing the camps and forcing the 1.2 million refugees back to their villages.

Tainted water could spread hepatitis E through the camps

There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis E and 13 people have died so far. Contaminated water causes the disease and any outbreak in crowded camps is likely to spread rapidly.

The World Health Organisation said that Western Darfur province was the worst affected, with eight deaths and 198 cases. "The only thing we can do is improve the water sanitation in the camps," said Yvette Bivigou, a spokesman for WHO in Sudan. "We're trying to chlorinate water supplies, but there is still a gap in terms of water that the refugees are using and water that is safe and chlorinated."

Hepatitis E has a normal fatality rate of two per cent but that rises tenfold in the cases of pregnant women. Mornei camp, the largest in Western Darfur with 75,000 refugees, has seen the most serious outbreak, pregnant women accounting for all but one of the eight deaths. The number of cases in Mornei trebled during the past week.

There has also been an outbreak in Ardamati camp outside El Geneina, the capital of Western Darfur, where 100,000 residents live alongside 80,000 refugees.

"This has caused huge fears among the local authorities because there's a possibility that it could spread to the resident population," said Dominic MacSorley, emergency co-ordinator for Concern, the Irish aid agency.

"Every effort is being made to contain hepatitis E but if it does get out of hand, we have a concern that it could be used to justify the relocation of people to their villages."

Under immense international pressure because of the refugee crisis, President Omar al-Bashir's regime in Khartoum is anxious to close the camps as soon as possible. But aid workers warn that forcibly relocating the refugees, many of whom are severely malnourished, would put them beyond the reach of international help.

Unless action is taken, the hepatitis E outbreak could escalate to become a cholera epidemic that would endanger thousands of lives. Mr MacSorley added: "This is a wake-up call to all international aid agencies that the services currently being provided in the camps are inadequate." Clean sanitary facilities and chlorinated water supplies are the only answers to hepatitis E and cholera.

Concern aims to build 10,000 pit latrines in Western Darfur's camps but the refugees' grass shelters are so tightly packed with people that any facilities are quickly overwhelmed.

• Sudan launched new helicopter gunship attacks in Darfur yesterday while Arab militia attacked refugees, the United Nations said.


Post a Comment

<< Home