Accessibility links

Breaking News

Reports: Drought-Stricken Somalis Dying From Contaminated Water

A group monitoring the food situation in Somalia says reports have been filtering in that people in the drought-stricken south are dying from contaminated water.

According to unconfirmed reports, at least 11 people from three districts, including five children, died recently after drinking water that had been exposed to animal feces.

The chief technical advisor for the Food Security Analysis Unit, Nicholas Haan, tells VOA his office has not verified the reports of those deaths.

"Now what we do know is that water supplies, as they go down and they mix with livestock and people and what-not, that they are severely contaminated and that in many cases [are] unfit for human consumption," he said.

Haan explains that the contaminated water comes from catchment areas such as small dams, streams, or depressions in the ground where water gathers.

He says that in normal times, there is enough surface water so that people can drink and use the water separate from their animals. But under drought conditions, people and animals tend to share the same water source, and there is less water, so contamination is more concentrated.

Boiling the water before drinking it might make a difference. Haan says he is not sure whether or not this particular contamination might be destroyed by boiling water, but that people are reluctant to do so.

"Water is so scarce that some people prefer not to boil the water, because when you boil water, you lose a certain percentage of the water," he explained. "Water is truly scarce right now. People are living on just a few liters of water a day."

Southern Somalia is in the midst of the widespread drought gripping parts of east Africa.

Aid groups have been reporting rising malnutrition rates and increases of clashes between rival clans and sub-clans over access to water and pasture to graze their animals.

Last month, the aid group Oxfam said that Somalis were living on three glasses of water each day and had to travel up to 70 kilometers to find water.

Haan says one option is to dig new boreholes or rehabilitate existing ones. He says rains in the upcoming mid-April to mid-June rainy season are forecast to be lower than normal.