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Haiti authorities make water the focus of cholera fight

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-10-28

A cholera epidemic nearing Haiti's squalid tent cities threatens to compound the country's humanitarian disaster. FRANCE 24 reports on the efforts to test and treat water stocks.

The cholera epidemic that has claimed almost 300 lives and spread to some 4,700 Haitians since last week is yet to peak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday. The rate of cholera deaths has declined since the outbreak. However, the disease is spreading, according to data released Wednesday by the country’s health ministry, with new cases confirmed in the country's north.

WHO officials have also expressed concern for the estimated 1.3 million people who were displaced by January’s devastating earthquake, and have been crammed into makeshift dwellings in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

The squalid tent cities, overrun with common latrines and stagnant pools of sewage, are especially vulnerable to contamination. City officials are monitoring the quality of the water -- a means of cholera’s propagation -- which is distributed daily to the tents’ inhabitants.

Only a few cholera cases have been reported in Port-au-Prince, but officials said the patients had contracted the disease outside the capital.

Water at the heart of concerns

With the recent outbreak of cholera, even water tanks belonging to international aid organisations have come under suspicion. Authorities have launched a campaign to control the levels of chlorine, an effective agent in arresting the disease.

"I have been finding water with low chlorine levels, others have none at all. It's risky,” says Roosevelt Pauri, a Port-au-Prince official in charge of analyzing the quality of drinking water.

The potential for an outbreak in these camps could push a barely manageable humanitarian disaster further into chaos. Haitian authorities and aid workers have focused their efforts on treating water stocks in the hope of preventing a catastrophic scenario.

Date created : 2010-10-28

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