Cameroon’s English-speaking region facing water shortage, cholera epidemic

Experts say struggle for clean water is relentless and heartbreaking in region, which already faces security issues

Aurore Bonny  | 17.04.2022 - Update : 21.04.2022
Cameroon’s English-speaking region facing water shortage, cholera epidemic File Photo

DOUALA, Cameroon

Apart from security issues plaguing Cameroon’s English-speaking southwestern region, of late it has been reeling under a cholera epidemic.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Albert Ze, a researcher in health economics, said that the Anglophone regions of Bamenda and Buea are suffering from severe health issues.

Since 2017, the Central African country of Cameroon has been engulfed by a deadly conflict rooted in the colonization by both the French and British governments – and the two languages that came with it, French and English.

In a conflict known as the "Anglophone crisis”, the military is currently battling separatist forces in the two English-speaking regions in the country’s northwest and southwest.

On the disease front, Health Minister Manaouda Malachie said that so far 4,627 cholera cases with 105 deaths have been reported in the country.

"Cholera is a very visible consequence. Even the spread of COVID-19 was accentuated. It is a shocking situation in a disrupted state like ours. Cameroon should review its national health policy in case of a crisis," he said.

“There has been no water and light for a week now. We are suffering in Buea city for now," Louise Edjeme, a resident of the southwest regional capital, told Anadolu Agency.

Bernard Okalia Bilai, the regional governor, blames cholera in Buea and other southwestern cities on the lack of clean water caused by the long dry season.

"The quality of water consumed and the level of hygiene are the factors that have favored this disturbing resurgence of cholera in the country. The populations are once again called to vigilance," Malachie told Anadolu Agency.

Okalia Bilai blamed the disease on the way livestock and some people continue to use waterways for defecation. He launched the first vaccination campaign on April 8, 2022, during which health workers are going door to door to encourage people to take the vaccine. He also instructed that wells be closed.

These activities have helped contain the spread of the epidemic in some districts, according to health authorities.

Anglophone crisis

The violence in the region since 2017 has left 3,000 people dead and more than 730,000 civilians displaced, according to Human Rights Watch.

"This crisis has displaced more than half a million people, many of whom have moved to these less violent areas, exacerbating the water crisis in the Northwest and Southwest, the two Anglophone regions," Arrey Ntui, a senior Cameroonian analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told Anadolu Agency.

The Fako area, with the cities of Limbe, Tiko, and Buea, is the epicenter of the cholera epidemic in Cameroon, he said.

“This division is the safest of the Anglophone regions, where the government has been fighting armed separatists for almost six years now. The water supply was already problematic before, but the current humanitarian crisis made things worse," he said.

Hygiene and sanitation standards are under pressure from war victims living in precarious situations, he explained.

“The small ports of Idenau, Tiko, and Limbe in the southwest also handle increased maritime traffic due to the violent clashes that limit the land border at Ekok via Mamfe for trade with Nigeria," he said.

These increased flows in maritime communities with poor hygiene and sanitary controls are contributing to the worsening cholera situation, which he said is now affecting nearby Douala, the economic capital in the coastal region.

"A crisis like this has significant negative effects on population health issues," Albert Ze, a Cameroonian expert in health economics and epidemics, told Anadolu Agency.

He called for a review of national healthcare policy and for equipping people with the tools they need to protect their health.

The epidemic has sowed public panic. Many of them are going to traditional markets to stock up on medicines against waterborne diseases.

"I avoid tap water as much as possible. There are too many diseases now," Robert Elame, a local, told Anadolu Agency.

“We have not finished with COVID-19, and already typhoid and cholera are trying to kill us. My brother and my girlfriend recently got typhoid. I have been trying to cure myself of this same disease for several weeks. Our water isn’t safe for cooking or washing our food.”

Fears about tap water

Many people also voiced fears about tap water. Those who could not afford mineral water thought they would be long dead if they had to worry about the water they were drinking.

Quoted by the local press, the Cameroon Water Utilities Corporation (Camwater), the national water supply and sanitation company, defended the "strict control" and quality of its water, saying that areas severely affected by cholera are not covered by its supply network, while "some that are covered are intertwined with other community water networks as in Limbe, Buea, and Tiko," cities in the English-speaking area.

In Douala, where Hermes Eboko is studying sociology at the University of Douala, he says he frequently sees several days of water cuts at a time, as people from many other cities verify.

Camwater fails to fulfill its responsibilities and is dishonest with the public, he said, which is why people resort to alternatives such as drilling wells, sometimes in unhygienic surroundings.

“The struggle for clean water is relentless and heartbreaking in Cameroon,” said Ntui, referring to populations in the country's north who have not been spared by cholera, insecurity, and drought.

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