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Cholera kills six, 60 infected in IDP camp

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KINSHASA, 1 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Cholera has broken out in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), killing six people and infecting 60 others, an official from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Friday.

"The outbreak began on 27 March, with two cases of infected people in Kakwa, but the very first death was recorded on Wednesday," said Modibo Traore, the OCHA humanitarian affairs officer in Bunia, the main town in the northeastern district of Ituri.

The five dead and the infected are all from the Kakwa camp for IDPs, 70 km northeast of Bunia, Traore told IRIN. The sixth death occurred in another IDP camp.

In a statement issued on Friday, OCHA said humanitarian workers were now calling for increased security in the Kakwa Camp, to avoid movement of the IDPs out of the site.

"The epidemic can be contained if people remain in Kakwa Camp, where they have access to life-saving medical treatment," Jahal de Meritens, the head of OCHA in the DRC, said. "However, growing insecurity is forcing them to leave the area, taking the deadly cholera bacteria with them."

OCHA said 54 cases of cholera cases had been recorded in the camp by Wednesday, with the number increasing significantly each day.

The sixth death and more cases were reported in Tché and Tchomia IDP sites, most likely spread by those fleeing the growing insecurity in Kakwa, humanitarian actors said.

"We are leaving Kakwa out of fear that the security situation in the area will deteriorate following the withdrawal of MONUC [UN Mission in the DRC] troops," an IDP told IRIN.

De Meritens said the IDPs were fleeing harassment by the national army troops sent to guard the camp. He added these troops had limited logistical support and were thus preying on the very population they were sent to protect.

He said that those fleeing Kakwa were mostly moving west towards Tché Camp and south towards Tchomia town.

MONUC's spokeswoman in Bunia, Rachel Eklou, told IRIN that MONUC had no reason to doubt that the Congolese army would not provide enough security to the population of Kakwa. She added that the national army had in the past shown that it was able to provide security when they neutralised militiamen.

De Meritens expressed fear that if cholera spread to Tché Camp and to Tchomia town, a humanitarian catastrophe could result as at least 35,000 IDPs were sheltering in those two areas.

"Even Bunia town could be threatened by this epidemic, should infected people not find a safe haven with access to medical care and clean water elsewhere in the region," De Meritens added.

The security situation in Kakwa has deteriorated since MONUC troops handed over responsibility for the protection of the camp to the Congolese army on Monday.

MONUC withdrew from Tché on Thursday, handing over the camp's security to the army.

OCHA reported that nearly 100,000 people were receiving emergency humanitarian aid in the territory of Djugu, in Ituri, after fleeing violence that flared up in the region in late 2004.


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