Cholera under control, but crop fears continue

Humanitarian workers in Mozambique are cautiously optimistic that a cholera outbreak is under control, following a drop in recorded cases since the beginning of this year.

World Health Organisation (WHO) disease control officer Pierre Kahozi told IRIN there had been 10 deaths since the beginning of this year, compared with at least 20 for the same period last year.

Case numbers peaked during the recent heavy rains to an average of 450 per month, affecting the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa in the north and Sofala and Manica in the centre of the country.

"The situation is not normal because cholera is never normal, but it is under control," Kahozi said.

He said NGOs and the government were still worried about the disease and were providing clean water and increasing the number of cholera treatment centres.

World Vision (WV), an NGO working with the government to control the spread of the disease, said that a recent report noted that only 37 percent of Mozambique's population had access to potable water.

The organisation said that seven new boreholes it had constructed through Food for Work programmes in Mutarara district in the centre of the country had become vital to the communities faced with the difficulty of accessing fresh water.

However, while health authorities have breathed a sigh of relief at the reduction in cholera cases, the heavy rains have brought renewed fears for next year's crop in the north.

WV said that provinces in the north were bracing themselves for even more rains, with up to 100,000 people said to need help with food and shelter in both Nampula and Zambezia provinces.

WV's agriculture department said a large section of the target population for its food security project in Nampula lost their cashew trees, and roads and bridges were destroyed.

WV Mozambique is currently looking at funds for road repair and rehabilitation, as one of the gravest concerns was access to these communities and their market routes.

Conversely, in the south of the country, drought has led the Ministry of Agriculture to concede that the next planting season has been compromised.

"In the recently readjusted disaster contingency plan, the National Institute for Disaster Management fears that the number of people affected by 'pockets of hunger' could double from the current 700,000," WV said.

A recent report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said that even drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and millet, and recently planted cassava, were showing signs of stress. Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo provinces in the south have been the most severely affected and parts of Sofala, Tete and Manica also faced a severe reduction in first season production.

The World Food Programme aims to reach 440,000 of the 655,000 people identified for food aid in recent assessments.