The border of Tanzania and Burundi has become a temporary home to thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Bujumbura. Those who fled to Tanzania during the failed coup attempt are now facing the threat of cholera.
More than 3,000 cases of cholera have been reported in Tanzania in recent days due at camps housing the influx of Burundian refugees fleeing political violence in their home country. Thirty-three people have died of the disease according to the UN, with hundreds of new infections noted each day.
All but two of those who died were Burundian refugees, and most were children. The area around the western Tanzanian border town of Kaguna, which had been inundated with refugees, was among the worst-affected.
"Numbers are increasing at 300 to 400 new cases per day, particularly in Kaguna and nearby areas," Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said. "At this rate, further cases can be expected over the next days and until the situation can be brought under control."
Edwards explained that the agency was working with the Tanzanian health ministry and other aid organizations to try to halt the outbreak. Over 50,000 refugees were reported to be struggling in overcrowded conditions on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Paul Spiegler, chief medical expert at the UN refugee agency, described the situation as “serious."
“We are expecting things to unfortunately get worse," he said, adding that the UNHCR hoped for a turn-around within a week.
Cholera is chiefly transmitted through contaminated drinking water. UNHCR said that overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in Kaguna, as well as the consumption of water directly from the lake, were believed to have sparked the initial outbreak. The refugee agency also launched an appeal to attract $207 million (188 million euros) to respond to the political unrest within Burundi which had sparked the outflow of refugees.
Around 100,000 people fled to neighboring countries - mainly Tanzania - since the Burundian unrest began in early April.
President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term ultimately triggered a failed coup attempt last week, in which more than 20 people died during street clashes.
ss/msh (AFP, Reuters)