March 9, 2006

Floods heighten fears of Malawi cholera outbreak

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Severe flooding in Malawi's main
southern tourist district has killed at least four people and
raised fears of a large-scale cholera outbreak, officials said
on Thursday.

"As government, our resources have been stretched with
other on-going relief efforts and we don't have enough capacity
now. What is worrying is the fear of more cholera cases,"
deputy health minister Charles Mchacha told Reuters.

Floods hit the region around Mangochi at the southern tip
of Lake Malawi, already coping with a cholera outbreak reported
last month, after heavy downpours swept the area this week,
making more than 500 families destitute.

Police confirmed that at least four people died in the
rains, but said they were still accessing the damage.

"We now fear for a large scale cholera outbreak which we
may not contain because for three days we have had no
humanitarian assistance, people are going without food and no
sanitation," district planning director Harry Chipeni said by

The storms dumped at least 158 mm (6.2 inches) of rain in
the district, famous for its sandy beaches, its sunshine and
excellent diving amid colorful tropical fish.

The cholera outbreak was reported late last year and
follows a drought and severe food shortages that have left
nearly half of Malawi's 12 million people with little to eat.
The crisis is particularly bad in the southern province.

So far health officials say 24 people have died from
cholera and more than 2,000 are infected.

Health officials last month attributed increase in cholera
in the area food shortages which have driven people to eating
contaminated food.

Cholera, which typically causes severe diarrhea, vomiting
and dehydration, is spread by eating or drinking food or water
contaminated with human feces.

Deputy Minister of Information and Tourism John Bande told
Reuters that a taskforce comprising health experts and road
engineers has today (Thursday) been dispatched to the area.

"We hope that by the end of next week, the situation will
be contained and back to normal, with assistance from support
of our development partners, the health risk will not be
there," he said.