DR Congo Ebola epidemic widens on eve of first anniversary

A second person has died of Ebola in the eastern DR Congo city of Goma, a major transport hub. Above, a boy has his temperature checked in the city. (AFP)
Updated 31 July 2019
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DR Congo Ebola epidemic widens on eve of first anniversary

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo’s pointman on the crisis, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said a second person had died of Ebola in Goma
  • Goma is the capital of North Kivu province, which has borne the brunt of the outbreak that began on August 1 2018

Goma, DR Congo: An epidemic of Ebola in eastern DR Congo sharply widened on Wednesday, the eve of the first anniversary of the outbreak, with the announcement of a death in a major city and the quarantining of 15 people in a province that had previously escaped the disease.
A total of 1,803 lives have been lost in the second worst outbreak of Ebola on record, according to figures released Wednesday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s pointman on the crisis, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said a second person had died of Ebola in Goma, a densely-populated city on the border with Rwanda that has transport links to many parts of East Africa.
“A patient who was confirmed with Ebola in Goma has died. Every measure has been taken to block the chain of transmission,” Muyembe told AFP.
Goma is the capital of North Kivu province, which has borne the brunt of the outbreak that began on August 1 2018.
It is a lakeside city of more than two million people that has an airport with flights to the capital Kinshasa, Uganda’s Entebbe and Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, as well as a port that links to Bukavu and South Kivu province.
Health experts fear outbreaks in major cities, where population density and high mobility make it far harder to isolate patients and trace contacts compared to the countryside.
Aruna Abedi, the chief Ebola coordinator in North Kivu, said the second fatality had arrived at a treatment center “11 days after falling ill.”
“His was really a hopeless case, because the illness was already at an advanced stage and he died overnight Tuesday.”
Abedi urged the public to respond swiftly to symptoms of Ebola and “not hide suspect cases.”
“The treatment center is not a dying room — you have to bring the patient in early,” he said.
The first death in Goma, reported on July 16, sparked a wave of concern.
In that case, a man described as an evangelical preacher had traveled from Goma to Butembo, one of the towns hardest hit by the outbreak.
While there, he preached at seven churches and regularly touched worshippers, including the sick, before returning to Goma.
The day after his announced death, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) declared the epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” — a move designed to step up the global response.
The WHO has since said a shortage in funding was finally being filled after several countries renewed pledges of financial aid.
The World Bank also announced this month it would deploy a further $300 million (269 million euros) in addition to $100 million already provided.
Many people in Goma voiced frustration and despair.
“I’m now afraid that this disease will reach us. We used to hear about it from a distance and now the virus is in our town,” said 27-year-old worker Anuarite Sifa.
“Why hasn’t the Butembo-Goma road been sealed off?” she asked.
Joseph Bakisula, 32, said: “This new death proves that Ebola was already in Goma. May God help us, otherwise it will be catastrophic for us and other towns” connected to Goma.
“The authorities have to take other steps to protect us.”
Meanwhile, in neighboring South Kivu province, which had previously skirted the epidemic, a senior official in Birava said 15 people had been quarantined.
They comprised “a mum and her six children who came from Goma as well as other members of her family who had come to meet them,” said the official, Christian Birhinjira.
Birava is located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu.
Among the Democratic Republic of Congo’s neighbors, fears have mounted that the highly contagious virus will cross porous borders.
“Economic and human exchanges are very intense,” the Central African Republic’s health minister, Pierre Somse, warned last week.
“Our livestock farmers sell their cattle in DR Congo. Rebel groups and poachers go back and forth across the border. The risks are high.”
Health Minister Oly Ilunga quit in protest on July 22 after President Felix Tshisekedi took personal control of the Ebola campaign.
One key challenge will be protecting doctors and nurses trying to contain the virus.
Attacks on health workers have had a devastating effect, with seven murdered and more than 50 seriously hurt, according to an unofficial tally.
The epidemic in DR Congo is the deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.


Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

Updated 14 min 49 sec ago

Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

LA PAZ, Bolivia: Water resources are running dry in the world’s highest-elevation capital due to the combined effect of the Andean glaciers melting, drought and mismanagement.
But instead of surrendering, the locals in Bolivia’s capital La Paz are finding new ways to tackle the changing climate.
The sky-high metropolitan area’s 2.7 million people have already been jolted by climate change: a severe drought that lasted for several months from 2016 into 2017 was Bolivia’s worst in 25 years, leading to water rationing and widespread protests in several cities.
In a sign of possibly worse to come, the Andean snowcaps — which have been relied on to fill the city’s reservoirs — are disappearing at a rate that has alarmed scientists.
In a gray and misty Valle de las Flores district in the east of the city, people are beginning to adapt to disappearing water resources.
There, Juana and her colleague Maria wash clothes for a living at a municipal wash-house, which is fed by spring water.
Public wash-houses — where the water is free — are becoming more popular, as residents change their habits around water use, getting their laundry done and escaping rising water charges.
“It’s true that there are more people coming here than ever before,” since water started to become more scarce, said Juana, as the women scrubbed and wrung-out garments for a fee of 20 bolivianos, or around $3 per dozen items.
In some neighborhoods, locals have become accustomed to storing rainwater in cisterns, ready for when the dry season comes.
The severe drought that lasted from November 2016 to February 2017 was blamed on the combined effects of the El Nino weather cycle, poor water management and climate change.
Leftist President Evo Morales declared a “state of national emergency” and tens of thousands of people in La Paz faced imposed water rationing for the first time, while surrounding mountains that were once covered in snow turned brown and barren.
The measures were expanded to at least seven other cities, and in the countryside, farmers clashed with miners over the use of aquifers.
As part of a contingency plan, Morales doubled down by embarking on a vast investment program in a bid to ensure future water supplies.
According to recent data from the national water company EPSAS, the government has spent $64.7 million (58.7 million euros) to construct four water reservoirs and supply systems from the lagoons of the surrounding Andean highlands.
The new systems will in part ease reliance on the Inkachaka, Ajunkota and Hampaturi dams that have until now supplied drinking water to around one-third of La Paz’s population.
The drought had left the dams almost completely depleted, resembling open-cast mines, and they took months to recover ample water levels.
Patricia Urquieta, an urban planning specialist at the University Mayor de San Andres, says that despite the hardships it brought, the drought did not lead to an increased collective awareness of the need to manage water resources.
Once water restrictions were lifted “this awareness of the need to preserve water fizzled out,” said Urquieta.
“There has beeen no public policy to raise awareness about water usage, even though reports show that La Paz could end up without water because of the decrease of water in the moutains,” she said.
UNESCO introduced an “Atlas on the retreat of Andean glaciers and the reduction of glacial waters” to map the effects of global warming in 2018.
It said “global warming could cause the loss of 95 percent of the current permafrost in Bolivia by 2050, and 99 percent by 2099.”
A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, citing analysis of satellite images, reported that “the Andean glaciers are among those that shrink the fastest.”
Between 2000 and 2018, the glaciers lost an average of 23 billion tons of ice a year, according to Nature
“When the glaciers disappear, they will no longer be able to provide water during the dry season,” said Sebastien Hardy, who is studying the local glaciers for the French Institute for Research and Development.
The Chacaltaya glacier — once the world’s highest ski resort — has already disappeared. Scientists said the glacier started to melt in the mid-1980s. By 2009, it had vanished.
The Inkachaka dam, a few miles outside the La Paz, is currently more than half-full, fed by snowfalls during the austral winter.
But the year-round snowcaps on nearby mountains, visible as recently as 30 years ago, no longer exist.