IRC Responds to Cholera Outbreak, Flash Floods in Afghanistan
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is chlorinating hundreds of public water sources and conducting hygiene promotion sessions to help communities stricken by a severe outbreak of cholera in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangahar. The cholera outbreak comes less than two months after heavy rains triggered flash floods that left thousands of people homeless in the province.
Afghanistan’s health ministry has recorded over 670 cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhea in almost a third of the country’s 34 provinces, including in the capital Kabul. Nearly 30 deaths have been reported. Following initial reports of an outbreak on October 8, IRC emergency teams traveled to Nangahar, where almost 300 cholera cases have been detected. To help stop the spread of the disease and provide people with safe water, the teams have purified over 2,000 wells with chlorine. They have also distributed posters and hygiene training materials including information on how to avoid contracting the disease to local volunteers.
“Cholera is a highly contagious, water-borne disease,” said the IRC’s humanitarian program coordinator Abdul Ahad. “The situation is made worse by Afghanistan’s extremely poor health system, which has been battered by decades of civil war. In some areas people have to walk several hours to reach a health facility.”
The flash floods which struck Nangahar on August 31, meanwhile, left thousands of people homeless. Serious flooding occurred in areas south of the city of Jalalabad, where IRC teams responded by distributing tents tarpaulins, plastic floor covers, hygiene kits and clothing to over 4,000 people. The IRC also built 250 latrines to prevent the spread of disease.
“The level of damage to houses and infrastructure is extensive,” Abdul Ahad said. “When we first arrived we saw many families still sitting out in the open by their damaged properties. Nearly 300 houses were swept away by the floods and many others suffered extensive structural damage. In many areas we saw piles of broken household goods and other debris.”
Ahad said that throughout the flooded province he observed children playing in stagnant pools of dirty water and that this posed a serious health threat.
“These pools are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, particularly prevalent at this time of the year, which may lead to outbreaks of malaria and other diseases,” he said. “To prevent this, we’ve trained villagers to spray their houses with insecticide.” So far, 2,300 houses have been treated, Ahad said.
Unsafe safe drinking water and poor sanitation and personal hygiene are major causes of cholera and diarrheal diseases in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, only a quarter of the country’s estimated 33 million people have access to clean drinking water and only 12 percent to safe sanitation. Up to 50,000 children die from diarrheal diseases every year.
Meanwhile, ongoing violence is severely hampering the IRC’s and other aid groups’ ability to provide aid.
“We are navigating one of the harshest conflict environments in the world today,” said Bob Kitchen, the IRC’s director in Afghanistan. “The humanitarian situation across the country is critical. The Afghan people have perhaps never been more profoundly impacted by armed conflict and preventable disease than now.”