For the vast majority of developing countries, poor water quality and waterborne disease are the biggest contributors to mortality rates. For the people of Somalia, this reality has only been made more evident in their recent cholera crisis.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease. It has the potential to kill its victims within hours if left untreated. Not only is the disease extremely virulent and easy to contract, but it also kills at unprecedented speed and is often difficult to detect.
The transmission of cholera gets often linked to a lack of access to clean water sources and sanitation facilities. This type of environment is particularly characteristic of the peri-urban slums of Somalia where open defecation is commonplace, and populations get crowded together.
The cholera crisis in Somalia stems from an endemic food deficiency that has plagued the country for years and has placed them on the brink of famine. Drought and extreme food insecurity have forced Somalian farmers into crowded urban areas putting an even greater strain on the limited clean water sources and contributing to the poor hygiene problem. After three consecutive years of failed rains, the current drought has resulted in more than 600 deaths. Most of these were related to acute watery diarrhea or cholera.
A humanitarian coordinator notes of the crisis: “Open defecation not only puts women’s dignity and security at risk, but it also poses a serious health hazard.” In addition to providing vaccines and treatment for existing cases of cholera, it is imperative that Somalians acknowledge the dangers of poor hygiene habits on their health and prioritize finding alternatives.
CARE Somalia is making an impact on the crisis through water, sanitation and hygiene efforts to prevent the onset of the disease. Alongside the Ministry of Health in Somalia, they reached over 250,000 people and potentially save the lives of thousands.
Another integral part of the organization’s humanitarian aid is the distribution of water purification tablets. The tablets can treat large volumes of water with chlorine and disinfect within 30 minutes, killing off bacteria that could transmit typhoid or cholera in a community’s water supply.
Since 2011, CARE invested in water infrastructure and hygiene efforts to curb another famine and improve the cholera crisis in Somalia. Although progress has been made, it is vital to keep the momentum on the project and continue prioritizing infectious disease prevention in poor slums worldwide.
– Sarah Coiro