Dysentery Starts to Ravage Rwandans
Aug. 02, 1994
GOMA, Zaire (AP) _ As dysentery steals cholera's grim title as the most widespread affliction in Goma's refugee camps, one relief official today predicted the almost unimaginable - an upsurge in deaths.
Children will be hardest hit, she said, by the deadly dysentery spreading among more than a million Rwandans jammed into camps along Zaire's eastern border.
Only Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees visited the camps and said she saw reason for hope, despite the misery all around her.
''Dysentery has overtaken cholera'' as the main disease afflicting refugees, said Samantha Bolton of the relief group Doctors Without Borders. She said 76 dysentery patients were treated at one of her agency's clinics Monday, compared with 33 cases of cholera.
''This is going to strike kids more than adults,'' Bolton said. ''It's going to be very expensive and time-consuming to treat, and you're going to see an upsurge in deaths.''
Cholera and dysentery are both spread by fecal contamination of food and water. Cholera is treated with an infusion of liquids and minerals to replace those lost by the body through vomiting and diarrhea. Dysentery requires five days of costly antibiotics.
Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the U.N.'s refugee agency, said today the number of reported deaths in the camps had fallen to an estimated 800 to 900 daily, down from 1,800 to 2,000 early last week.
''That figure undoubtedly will go up when the dysentery moves up in scope,'' he said.
The U.N. has appealed for $434 million in donations to help the refugees, and representatives from about 40 countries met today in Geneva to pledge funds.
Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the meeting the agency faced a cash shortfall of $65 million. Despite a huge international aid effort, she said, the agency desperately needs help improving sanitation, camp and road facilities.
Ogata made her first visit to the camps Monday, then flew to Geneva.
In Goma, where death and suffering surrounded her, she was cheered to see cholera victims saved by Red Cross and volunteer doctors, U.S. planes ferrying in water tankers, and engineers bulldozing roads so they could serve more people.
''Things are bad but they're going to get better,'' Ogata said Monday.
In Geneva today, Sylvana Foa, a spokeswoman for the High Commissioner's office, said the arrival of more bulldozers to bury the dead in mass graves has helped to control the spread of disease.
''There were no bodies in the camp yesterday and that has eliminated a major health problem,'' she said.
The U.N. Children's Fund on Monday estimated 50,000 people have died in the camps in the past two weeks, more than twice the High Commissioner's figure of 20,000.
U.S. military efforts to increase the flow of clean water to the camps gained momentum. Transports brought the first of three 3,000-gallon U.S. water tankers, and nine tankers were expected from Finland.
U.S. Army engineers bulldozed two paths through Kibumba, 20 miles north of Goma, where the crush of refugees has slowed traffic to a crawl. The paths will make it easier for U.N. trucks to carry water there from an American water purification site in Goma.
On television news shows in the United States this morning, Defense Secretary William Perry said American troops will not be part of a 4,100- member U.N. peacekeeping mission authorized for Rwanda. The U.S. military will only be involved in refugee relief operations, he said.
''The United States will provide logistic support for the peacekeeping operation ... but we're not going to provide troops for it,'' he said.
The United States has 1,200 troops in the region now and could have as many as 2,000, he said.
In Kigali, the Rwandan capital, more than 100 U.S. military personnel worked nonstop to open the airport 24 hours a day to relief flights and, in the process, ease the aid logjam at Goma's tiny airport.
The refugee camps in eastern Zaire swelled in mid-July with Hutus fleeing the climax of the ethnic war in Rwanda.
At least 350,000 died in the bloodletting, most of them members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority slaughtered by Hutu militias. When Tutsi-led rebels defeated the Hutu government forces, panicked refugees poured into Zaire.
Ogata said the new Rwandan government appeared to be sincere in wanting Hutus and Tutsis to share power. The agency had no evidence to support Hutu claims of revenge slayings of returning refugees, she said.
But those who lost the war continue to sow discord in the refugee camps, where their words are taken seriously.
Gen. Augustin Bizimungu, chief of staff of the defeated Hutu army, gave journalists in Goma a purportedly leaked rebel hit list. It named 220 members or supporters of the deposed government who, he claimed, faced execution if they returned to Rwanda. Bizimungu was near the top of the list.