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Cholera alert as floods hit Cameroon

Heavy rains and flooding are fuelling a growing cholera outbreak in northern Cameroon.

More than 1,000 cases have been reported and 106 people have died from the disease in the central west African country, over the past two months.

Continual downpours have triggered landslides that have swamped homes in the north of the country, and made traditional pit toilets unusable.

"We have never witnessed such an alarming death toll due to cholera or any other epidemic before," said Joseph Beti Assomo, governor of Cameroon's far north region.

Last year, 35 people died from cholera in a Cameroon town on the border with neighbouring Chad after nearly 400 were infected. But this year is shaping up to be a lot worse.

Over the past few weeks, the region's cholera death toll has hit 106 − triple last year's rate, and a total of 1,120 cases of the disease have been reported in 13 hospitals across the region, according to health officials.

Cholera is a diarrhoeal disease carried by water and it can kill within hours if left untreated.

Safe water, toilets and washing facilities are crucial to stop its spread and prevent other diseases carried by water.

But as in many areas in central and west Africa, safe drinking water is regularly in short supply in Cameroon's Far North region − more so as droughts get longer and more common  − a change that  has been linked to climate change.

More than 70 per cent of people living in Cameroon's north region often can’t get safe drinking water because of drought, according to the World Health Organization.

But this year, heavy rains are the problem.  Health officials in the region  think the first cases of the disease in June may come from over the border  in Chad, but flooding − which has ruined washing and toilet facilities and contaminated water supplies − has helped it spread outside the border town Pouss and into towns such as Mokolo and Kolofata where more people are dying from it..

"The locals here use mainly pit toilets built with mud," chief medical officer, Dr Marcelline Nimpa Mengono, told Reuters news service.

With heavy floods, everything is submerged and one can hardly stand the nauseating smell of the still water," the doctor said.

Cameroon's government is offering the victims financial support, and sending teams of health workers to the area.

"We have been advising the population to build modern toilets, to drink only treated water, to wash food properly before cooking and to wash their hands before eating," Dr Mengono said.

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