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Fighting the cholera epidemic in emergency camps

DR Congo, February 6, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Nyarubwa Seraphin/Mercy Corps  </span>
    More than 270 community health volunteers trained by Mercy Corps are now raising awareness in the camps about the risks of cholera and how to prevent it. They’ve already reached over 57,000 people with messages about when and how to wash hands, use soap, spot the signs of cholera and deal with its symptoms. They’re even playing games with local children to help them understand the importance of healthy hygiene. Photo: Nyarubwa Seraphin/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Nyarubwa Seraphin/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Consistent hand washing is one simple way to prevent the spread of cholera. In Nyanzale camp in North Kivu, this child is one of many learning how and when to wash their hands thoroughly from community volunteers trained by Mercy Corps. Photo: Nyarubwa Seraphin/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Beda Dunia/Mercy Corps   </span>
    Water can be contaminated by cholera at many different points, from collection to transportation and storage. Mercy Corps staff and trained community volunteers test and treat water at every stages to make sure that the water is not contaminated and that chlorine levels are low enough to drink after treatment. The teams also disinfect latrines and contaminated areas. Photo: Beda Dunia/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Chiza Rubarande/Mercy Corps  </span>
    To prevent the spread of cholera through contaminated water, Mercy Corps has set up water treatment stations like this one in Kashuga. Water is treated with chlorine to ensure it is safe for human consumption, then piped to water points in the camps so families don’t have to use infected water sources and risk exposing their children to the disease. Photo: Chiza Rubarande/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Bedia Dunia/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps teams have built tap stands like this one in Kahe camp so that families have easy access to clean water close to their shelters. Along with the construction of larger water supply systems, water catchments and treatment stations — as well as latrines and bathing points — these new facilities are helping to reduce the spread of cholera. Photo: Bedia Dunia/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Beda Dunia/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Displaced families usually use untreated water from nearby rivers and springs. Many of these water sources, such as the Mweso River in North Kivu, are used by several different camps for drinking, washing, and waste disposal, making it easy for cholera to spread quickly and widely. Mercy Corps is also working to provide portable water containers so that even families living outside the camps can bring clean water with them and not risk infection. Our team and will continue to work alongside the local community in the camps of the Democratic Republic of Congo to tackle the spread of cholera. For updates and more on our work elsewhere in the country, visit our DR Congo page. Photo: Beda Dunia/Mercy Corps

Cholera is raging across the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the last year, more than 22,000 people have been infected – 1,600 of those in the last four weeks alone.

The disease is rampant in the temporary camps that house many of the 1.7 million people who have been forced from their homes by conflict and hunger. Limited water supplies and poor sanitation in these overcrowded camps create an environment ripe for the spread of cholera.

Mercy Corps teams have quickly ramped up efforts to battle the disease in 23 camps in North Kivu, an area with some of the highest infection rates in the country. We are giving families lasting sources of clean water, soap, latrines and washing facilities, as well as training community volunteers, parents and children on healthy hygiene and sanitation to prevent the disease from spreading.

Recent photos from our team in North Kivu show how they’re helping communities battle the epidemic.