Early action to prevent a cholera outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo

At the water point outside Rutshiro school. UNICEF/Arlette Bashiz

DRC | 2023 | CERF

DR Congo, Rutshuro. Alice fled with her children when fighting broke out in Bugina, a village located several hours’ walk away from Rutshuro, where she now lives. More than 190,000 people were forced to leave their homes following the clashes in North Kivu province.

Families lack food, water, adequate shelter, health care, and sanitation services. The clashes are only the most recent in a conflict that has upended many lives for decades.

Alice is filling a water jug to take home, outside the Remera primary school in Rutshuro.

“Life is very difficult here,” says a student, Mani, who is washing some dishes nearby with the clean water.

At Remera primary school UNICEF quickly established water points so that children and their families had sustainable access to clean water. Since March 2022, UNICEF has also constructed 272 toilets and 132 emergency showers in places hosting displaced families. The funding, from the Central Emergency Response Fund, is part of OCHA’s pilot anticipatory action project for cholera.

Without access to clean water and sanitation services, children and families are exposed to a higher risk of waterborne diseases, notably cholera. UNICEF distributed prevention kits to 3,500 displaced families and trained over 40,000 people in good hygiene practices, thanks to support from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), CERF, and the Governments of Japan, Germany and Sweden.

“We know we need longer-term investments in water and sanitation to put cholera behind us,” says Juan Chaves-Gonzalez, who is leading the pilot. “While that happens, we need to get ahead of it so that in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, catching and controlling a small cluster of cases can avoid a crisis. That’s what anticipatory action for cholera is all about.”

CERF allocated US $750,000 for anticipatory action for cholera response in DRC in 2022, to support UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and their partners to mitigate cholera and prevent a larger outbreak. Improving detection and confirmation of cases, interrupting transmission, and promoting safe hygiene packages are also critical.

“When I arrived I had no water,”says Mani, at the school’s water point. “It is difficult to live without water.”

Based on original stories published by partners UNICEF and AnticipationHub:

More information about the CERF allocation: