Aid groups are urging donors to invest in water and sanitation in areas known as hotbeds for cholera. They say while such projects might directly affect a relatively small population, the indirect impact in terms of cholera reduction could be immense.
The call comes as NGOs, donors, and governments study lessons learned from one of the severest cholera outbreaks in years - a Guinea-Sierra Leone cross-border epidemic which broke out in coastal areas, where there is no access to clean water, then exploded in the capitals.
“Governments in this region and donors want to find long-term solutions,” said Christophe Valingot, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) specialist with European Union aid body ECHO. “The identification of risk zones allows us to say, OK, we’ve got to invest here if we want to have an impact on cholera.”
“It’s clear that these zones are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to access to water and sanitation. This mapping directly flags the gaps in water and sanitation development.”
Research has shown that over the past decade Kambia District in Sierra Leone and Forécariah District in Guinea, have repeatedly been areas where cholera exploded, according to NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF), which has done mapping, prevention, and response work in the two countries.
“Cholera is not just an emergency and humanitarian issue,” said Jessica Dunoyer, an ACF cholera expert who worked in the two countries during the latest epidemic. “It is an issue for the development community.” With respect to water access, she said that given the Millennium Development Goal (full report) of halving the number of people lacking access to safe water, there is often an emphasis on the number of people covered, while considerations such as an area being a cholera hotbed may not sufficiently guide selection.