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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Catastrophe Still Acute in Rwanda

GOMA, Zaire -- The catastrophe for more than 1 million Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire is far from over as a dysentery epidemic is rising despite cholera passing its peak around the border town of Goma, aid officials said Thursday.

They warned a huge international effort would have to help camps for 1 million in the Goma area for months and much more was needed to head off a new disaster brewing in southwestern Rwanda.

Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees, said a UNHCR health coordination committee reported cholera cases and the death rate from the disease were now falling.

Wilkinson said the estimated death rate, before dysentery reached full force, was continuing to fall, with 500 people now dying each day in the Goma camps compared with 2,000 last week.

U.S. water purification plants had treated 3 million litres Thursday and 44 tankers were now delivering round the clock to the worst camp, Kibumba, he added.

Clean water is the key factor in fighting cholera and dysentery. The bare minimum to provide for all the refugees is 400,000 litres and the UN says they should get 30 million in the best conditions.

"It is too soon to consider we are over the catastrophe," said Dr Philippe Biberson, the president of the French section of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

"The situation will continue to deteriorate, although it will be less visible," he said, adding refugees had used up what reserves they had brought with them and were more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease.

"Now the cholera epidemic is over we will come to the next phase. It is too soon to give the impression things are getting better," he said. "It will be very difficult in the days and weeks ahead."

Food was the main problem with refugees getting far less than the minimum 2,000 kilocalories each per day. "It is already visible the nutritional situation is deteriorating," said Biberson.