NAIROBI, 25 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, appealed on Friday for US $217,000 to fight cholera the Democratic Republic of Congo's South Kivu Province, where at least 34 people have died of the disease since December 2004.
"Since the start of the epidemic [at the] end of December, a total of at least 2,256 cholera cases have been registered," Camara Moulaye, the Federation's acting head of the DRC delegation in Kinshasa, told IRIN.
The Federation said the epidemic was predominantly active in the towns of Bukavu and Uvira, where 90 percent of the cases were reported. It asked donors for help to "bring the epidemic under control and reduce the mortality rate".
The Federation blamed a series of heavy rainstorms in January and February 2005 for the outbreak.
"The rains and ensuing flooding have damaged latrines, allowing human faecal matter to escape," it said. "This has exposed the inhabitants to the risk of water-source contamination and a rapid spreading of cholera."
The storms also left at least 5,000 people without shelter.
"If it rains a lot, about 60,000 people will be directly exposed to the disease," Moulaye said.
The rains also damaged the three main bridges in the area, Federation officials reported. It is feared that the bridges could collapse, potentially isolating the entire southern part of South Kivu.
The spread of the epidemic was accelerated by the poor sanitation infrastructure in the area. A UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) survey conducted in 2001 showed that only 17.3 percent of the population had access to potable water within 15 minutes of their homes and only 40 percent had latrines.
"In the emergency phase of the operation, we focus on reinforcing the health care given to patients, monitoring of the disease and water chlorination - both at water points and prior to consumption," Moulaye said.
Through the appeal, the Federation also wants to fund a public education programme on personal hygiene.
"The start of the epidemic coincided with the mango season - when people gather fruit from the ground and eat them without washing," Moulaye said. "We need to sensitise them."
The Federation works in partnership with the UN World Health Organization, UNICEF, the local government and the NGO, Doctors Without Borders.
To combat the epidemic efficiently, a provincial coordination committee has been established and four cholera treatment centres set up, the Federation said.