Rainy season heightens risk of disease

Central African Republic, April 9, 2014

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  • Photos: Marie De Col/Mercy Corps

The rainy season is beginning in the Central African Republic, exacerbating already squalid living conditions in the makeshift displacement camp at the airport in Bangui. As many as 100,000 people have taken refuge at the M’Poko site seeking safety from the violence that’s ravaged the country for the past year.

Clean water and decent sanitation facilities in the site are scarce. But since attacks escalated in December, people who’ve seen family members killed or had their homes looted and burned are too terrified to leave.

Imminent heavy rains threaten to make sordid conditions — puddles of dirty, stagnant water; inadequate or overflowing latrines; piles of trash throughout living areas — even worse.

“With the rainy season coming there is a big danger of [waterborne] diseases like malaria or typhoid, because the people in these places, especially young children, are not protected. There could also be a danger of cholera if the situation continues,” said Jacques Terrenoire, Mercy Corps Country Director for the Central African Republic.

And families’ makeshift shelters will provide little protection from the inclement weather.

“There aren’t even tents in the airport — it’s tarpaulins on pieces of wood,” explained Terrenoire. Many families have even less, he added, instead using cloth or pieces of clothing as protection from the elements.

“Now that it has rained people are just walking in the mud,” Terrenoire went on. “There are often between five and ten people under a shoddy shelter, and if there is a strong wind it could be torn away. Most of the time here when there is heavy rain there is also strong winds, which means these shelters can be destroyed very easily.”

To address these escalating emergency needs, we’re working closely with IDP community leaders who have been elected to manage the 11 different zones of M’Poko.

Last week our Deputy Program Manager Charlie Yabindi met with Simplice Nguérépayo (center), the head of zone 1 in M’Poko, and his assistant, Evelyne Gbianda, to discuss the draining channels we’ll build to rid the area of stagnant water pools.

Charlie also oversaw the start of construction for 100 additional latrines. We’re employing residents of the camp to do the work, which will address the urgent need for facilities — many areas have none and most existing structures are full.

To help stifle the heightened risk of illness in the crowded site, our hygiene promotion team is currently educating displaced families about good hygiene practices, like handwashing and proper garbage disposal, that help prevent the spread of disease.

And we will soon begin distributions of clean water and enough hygiene materials for 25,000 people, including soap and buckets for water storage.

While we are working to meet these urgent water and sanitation needs, we also remain focused on our longer-term protection work and the rebuilding of communities.

Our listening centers are open to provide emotional support, legal counseling and medical referrals to those who have suffered gender-based violence or sectarian attacks. And we are working to promote community conflict resolution, a requisite for the crippled nation to restore peace and safety for its citizens.

“People [in the IDP site] live in very dire conditions. Even with the complications of the rainy season there is a significant number of people who do not want to go back to their neighborhoods. The main reason is because their homes have been destroyed or looted to the ground, and the second reason is security,” said Terrenoire. “If there is nothing done to improve that — to help them rebuild their houses or bring back security in the neighborhoods — they will stay in the IDP sites, even in dire conditions.”

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