LILONGWE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Severe floods in Malawi are raising fears of a large-scale cholera outbreak, a health official said on Thursday, as the country grapples with a disaster that has killed at least 48 people and made 70,000 homeless over the past few days.
The Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services has forecast further heavy rain and flash floods for the next two to three weeks, especially in the south where the rains have already caused most damage.
President Peter Mutharika declared half the southern African country a disaster zone on Tuesday.
“Obviously with the scale of the floods, the likelihood of outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne disease is very high and we are worried,” Health Ministry spokesman Henry Chimbali told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“We have stationed response supplies in all affected districts but if the outbreak is on a larger scale, we would need immediate help.”
The worst recorded outbreak of cholera in Malawi was during a drought in 2001/2 when nearly 1,000 people, mostly children, died out of 33,000 cases.
No outbreak has been reported yet this year.
Cholera is always present in Malawi at a low level, mainly in the rainy season when sanitation is poor and drinkable water scarce, and health officials rate the ‘normal’ cholera infection rate at 0.2 percent of the population.
The current heavy rains have also damaged crops, raising fears of a poor harvest. Last year, Malawi’s farmers harvested 3.9 million tonnes of the staple crop, maize, providing a surplus of almost one million tonnes.