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Cholera Outbreak Puts Buea’s Scarce Water Resources To Test

Amen Water catchment in Bolifamba had earlier been suspected of being source of cholera outbreak but this was just a rumour

By Hope Nda

The town of Buea has been on alert after health district authorities announced, on January 31, a cholera outbreak that has killed at least three people, with over 20 people infected by the contagious disease since the first case was confirmed on January 28.

Health personnel at Mile 16 Bolifamba confirmed on Monday that the outbreak was severe. They told reporters that 17 cases had already been confirmed at that time and two new cases had just been brought to the local health centre.

The Buea District Medical Officer, Dr Mathias Ngund, cautioned people in a communiqué on Monday to “be on alert” and to adopt preventive hygiene measures, especially washing of hands before and after meals, after using the toilet and keeping all food clean.

The outbreak puts to test the limited water resources now available for Buea’s growing population. The town has been suffering from water shortages for a long time now and inhabitants say cholera puts more pressure on the water that they do not even have.

Speaking to reporters on February 2, the Bolifamba Water Committee Chairperson, Mathias Elumpe Ebah, said water resources have become scarcer in the community, given an increase in population fuelled by an influx in internally displaced persons, IDPs, as a result of the war in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

“The population has grown. By the time the catchment was established in 1976 and 2010, respectively, the population was not like this. So, normally the water supply is short so we are begging that the authorities concerned should take cognizance of this and make sure that, whenever we put a request for water increase, they should see into it that this thing is done very well.”

Ebah, who also doubles as Secretary of the Bolifamba Traditional Council, added: “Normally, the population by then was about 2,000, but now the population, put together with the IDP population, has risen from about that 2,000 to 35,000 to 40,000 persons in Bolifamba. Our tank carries a 30,000- cubic litre water supply, but now the population consumes three times more than that. So, we wish that the Government or the authorities concerned should do something as far as this is concerned.”

People are being cautioned to wash their hands, food, clean their environments and toilets, but all of these, they say, can only be done using water, a basic necessity that has become a luxury to many in the town.

Although health authorities did not say where the cholera outbreak stemmed from, some people in Bolifamba had thought it came from a popular water catchment, Amen Water, and they temporarily closed the catchment, which was later reopened for use and has not been closed again.

“I have lived here in Bolifamba for about 10 years and I have been drinking this water. I have never heard something was wrong with it. I feel very bad because this is the first time we are experiencing this. I was very surprised when I heard there was cholera here, because, we have been drinking from this water source for a very long time,” a Bolifamba resident told reporters on Wednesday, February 2.

Amen water, as the catchment is popularly called, supplies thousands of people from Bolifamba and neighbouring communities daily and, if closed, because of cholera, locals say they have almost no alternative means because potable water from State water company, CAMWATER, is not available to every household.

Contaminated Water Is Not The Cause

Community leaders and residents of Bolifamba have denied rumours that the epidemic was caused by contaminated water, but urged their population to remain cautious about their water sources.

According to Mathias Elumpe Ebah, it is unlikely the outbreak stemmed from contaminated water because the popular water sources are natural, well preserved and kept clean.

“I have taken all measures to ensure that the water we are using in Bolifamba is safe for the population. Water from Bolifamba is quite safe, especially our water source from Bulu and the water source in Amen. I can say so because people leave from other areas to come and fetch the water.

“The common measures we are keeping in town include boiling of water, keeping it for a day before we use and making sure that we fetch it from a public running tap. We should not fetch it from small wells or boreholes that we doubt their sources and we doubt their purity. So, we take measures in saying that we keep the water clean,” he said.

Ongoing Community Sensitisation

The Mile 16 Bolifamba community has been on high alert since the first people died of the disease. Local authorities, including quarter heads and religious officials, have been sensitising the people on what to do to avert further outbreaks.

Julius Noyeh is Quarter Head of Quarter 1 in Bolifamba. In collaboration with the Village Council, he has been sensitising his people through local mediums, including the use of a town-crier.

“We took immediate action with my Water Council people by sending a town-crier out. And what happened is that we gave information to the town-crier that he should tell the people not to take it for a joke; that everybody should be very careful. If you don’t have money to buy mineral water- you should take the water you have, boil it, leave it to get cool for say 24 hours and then you drink. For those that are unable to do it, or they have small Eau de Javel, they can drop two drops in five litres of water and leave it for about 10 minutes before they drink it,” Julius Noyeh said.

“The next morning we went round again with some of our members and told people not to joke with the outbreak. By then we heard of two deaths, so we were just afraid that it should not spread to our Quarter 1. Those that do not have toilets, we asked them to build their toilets and they should stop throwing waste in the stream,” the Quarter 1 Head furthered.

At the local health centre, the nurses say they have been doing their best to respond to the outbreak.

“We have been giving them information – to boil their water; to use water guards to disinfect their drinking water. If they cannot have these water guards they should boil, keep it cool and clean and drink. They should wash their hands with soap and water,” a nurse at the Bolifamba Health Centre told reporters on January 31.

Although no new infection had been recorded by February 2, when reporters approached the health centre, the cholera outbreak in Buea is far from being contained, given that hygiene conditions remain poor among locals and water sources in some neighbourhoods are questionable.

In an era of COVID-19 and now cholera, Buea and other parts of the Southwest – like Tiko, Idenau, Bakassi and Ekondo-Titi, might just be ticking time bombs for water-borne diseases in future, if water conditions and food are not looked into.

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