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Flood waters in Benin threaten a rise in cholera

As the number of cholera cases carries on rising in Haiti, medical experts are worrying the disease might also take its toll in Benin. The streets of Benin’s main city, Cotonou, are still underwater after the country experienced its worst flooding in 47 years. More than a quarter of Benin still lies under water, since the floods arrived in mid-September. Around 680,000 people remain affected, with 200,000 displaced from their homes. The UN refugee agency has set up around 20,000 tents for the displaced and more are being sent out.

One resident of Cotonou, Amedokpo Luis, who is a teacher in the city, says “I have never seen a thing like this in my life”. Amedokpo has had to move his family to stay in a colleague’s house, because his own home remains under water. Across the flooded streets, local fishermen are making money using their boats as taxis to ferry residents around. And many people are fishing in the floodwaters. It is estimated that farmers in Benin have lost over 80,000 animals and 128,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed. Most residents blame global warming for the severe weather which has affected Benin, like so many parts of Africa this year. The government of Benin has appealed for 46 million dollars in aid, to help rebuild the estimated 55,000 homes which have been destroyed and to replace livestock and crops.

But while the citizens of Cotonou have remained calm, coping with the flooded streets as best they can, increasingly residents fear the spread of cholera. So far, the disease has killed 60 people, but those are only the official deaths, where people have died in hospitals. Medics believe the toll could be far higher. One doctor in the city admitted that “cholera is inevitable” because with the flooded streets there is no effective drainage and the water has become contaminated with sewage. Since most residents still use pit latrines, waste from these has now mixed with water from wells.

Residents of Cotonou, Benin’s largest city and home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population, are starting to feel frustrated by the slow response of the government and with insufficient supplies of aid. And food shortages are likely to continue for some time to come. Even when the waters do finally subside, it will take many months before crops are ready to harvest again. And since the rainy season is now at its peak in Benin, more heavy downfalls are expected. So the inhabitants of Cotonou have no idea when they will be able to go home and life can return to normal.

Laurinda Luffman signature