South Sudan: Cholera threatens lives of thousands during harsh rainy season

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, July 23, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- With the rainy season nearly at its peak in South Sudan, cholera continues to spread in the war-torn country. The South Sudan Red Cross is working hard to prevent further spread of the epidemic in Eastern Equatoria and Upper Nile states, supported by its Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners.

Inadequate sanitation conditions and a lack of safe drinking water put thousands already affected by violence at further risk. “With thousands of people affected and nearly 100 deaths reported already, the cholera epidemic that begun mid-June has rapidly spread. The epidemic spreads fast if no immediate measures are taken," said ICRC engineer Jonathan Pease, who is coordinating the organization's water and sanitation response.

"The lack of toilets in many areas and the onset of the rainy season means that faeces are being washed into the rivers from which people have to obtain their drinking water. This can be deadly if appropriate measures are not taken in time," he added.

The combined response of the ICRC, the South Sudan Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other Red Cross Societies differs from one location to another, depending on the local situation.

In Torit, the ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross have created an emergency water treatment system that is providing up to 40,000 people with safe drinking water. The Federation is also responding with safe water solutions to fight deadly disease.

“When I heard that cholera was killing so many people, I was shocked. My people don't deserve it. First they were killed by bullets and now a disease that can easily be prevented is killing them," explained Martin Lungur, 24, a South Sudan Red Cross volunteer from Torit.

In Torit, hundreds of committed volunteers like Martin are going house-to-house, distributing oral rehydration salts and soap and demonstrating how to take care of basic hygiene and use water purification tablets.

“We tell people that washing hands and boiling water can save their lives," Martin continues. "I remember this eight year old boy in one of the houses we visited. He had cholera but his mother had no idea what to do about it. I gave him oral salts and took him to hospital. He survived. Saving his life is the biggest achievement of my life."

To pass on this potentially life-saving information, South Sudan Red Cross personnel are also using radio spots, talk shows and presentations at markets and other public places.

In Kodok and Lul, where local radio is unavailable, the ICRC and South Sudan Red Cross are setting up portable sound systems in public places. These include the port, where the two organizations have installed cholera treatment centres, footbaths and hand washing facilities for people arriving and leaving by boat to prevent spread of cholera.

In several other counties, the South Sudan Red Cross has launched awareness activities in the areas affected by cholera outbreaks, working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other Red Cross Societies. The ICRC is complementing this response in areas particularly affected by armed conflict.

At the same time, the ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross are also:

• improving the existing water supply system and extending networks to reach cholera treatment centres and primary health centres in Kodok;

• setting up water treatment in Lul for some 6,000 people;

• installing oral rehydration stations in key locations affected by the outbreak;

• constructing some 125 latrines in important public places such as schools and markets;

• distributing soap, buckets and jerrycans.

Since the beginning of the epidemic in mid-June, the ICRC has:

• provided hygiene items, chlorinated water and an increased water supply in Juba and Torit prisons;

• constructed 300 latrines in Awerial County in Lakes state, home to the single largest concentration of displaced people in South Sudan, to improve hygiene and sanitation conditions and as a preventive measure against cholera.