BLANTYRE: Health authorities in Malawi said Sunday that the country faces a daunting task in fighting a cholera outbreak following the destruction wrought by Cyclone Freddy.

Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda said poor access to clean water and sanitation at emergency camps for those displaced by the cyclone pose a threat for the further spread of the waterborne disease, which has already killed 1,677 people since its onset in March last year.

“The challenge we face is huge because the cyclone has completely disrupted health services in 10 districts,” Chiponda told Anadolu by phone.

Humanitarian agencies, UNICEF and Save the Children have also warned that the devastation and flooding caused by the cyclone in Malawi and Mozambique have added to the difficulties of children and families in accessing water, hygiene, health and sanitation services.

“In the face of crisis and chaos, it is children who are the most vulnerable,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Mohamed Fall in a statement.

“Cyclone Freddy has taken a devastating toll. Many families in Malawi and Mozambique have had their lives swept away, leaving them with very little and putting children and the most vulnerable in particular at immense risk,” he added.

Poor sanitation in camps

Palal Areman, deputy operations team lead for Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit in Blantyre in southern Malawi, fears poor sanitation facilities and open defecation in the camps will fuel waterborne diseases such as cholera.

He said Malawi was already dealing with a big situation with the cholera outbreak and resources had been stretched.

“With Cyclone Freddy hitting, the normal healthcare routine is completely disrupted,” Areman said in a statement.

“Temporary tents put up to treat cholera patients have been destroyed, putting medical services out of reach for many. I think in the long term, with (clean) water disruption, the pipes broken and water contamination highly likely, cholera cases will most certainly go up,” he added.

An estimated 183,000 people have fled their homes due to the storm and flood damage caused by Cyclone Freddy.

Alinafe Mbewe, a mother of four who is living at a makeshift camp in Manja Township in Blantyre, said sanitation at the camp is a huge challenge, especially for women.

“We are at a school where toilet facilities are broken down, and we have had no water supply for the past three days. Life has been tough,” she said.

Cholera outbreak

Malawi and Mozambique have been the most seriously affected by the cholera outbreak, with Malawi recording more than 54,491 cases to date.

Mozambique has been facing a cholera outbreak since September last year, with 10,000 confirmed cases in 35 districts across seven provinces.

Cyclone Freddy made landfall on the African island of Madagascar before moving west into Mozambique in late February.

It ravaged Mozambique again last weekend before hitting Malawi with heavy rains on March 12.

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera declared a state of disaster after more than 447 people were killed by the cyclone. - Bernama