Outbreaks of cholera and severe diarrhoea have struck tens of thousands of refugees from the small African nation of Burundi who are jammed into a village in neighbouring Tanzania.
Aid agencies working in the village on the edge of Lake Tanganyika said on Tuesday that the sick Burundians are overwhelming the health infrastructure and sanitation facilities.
Between 500 and 2,000 people are arriving daily in the tiny fishing village of Kagunga, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
The refugees have abandoned their country because of fears of political violence in the runup to June elections, in which their president is seeking a third term.
His candidacy has triggered demonstrations for three weeks in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. And amid the chaos, some military officers launched a coup last week, which failed within two days.
Kagunga’s original population of 11,382 has increased to above 90,000 since April, WHO said in a statement. There is not enough safe water for drinking.
With Kagunga surrounded by mountains, the refugees must wait to board a 100-year-old ship and make the three-hour trip to the port of Kigoma 70 miles away, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said.
Burundi refugees say there is no turning back as fears grow of reprisals at home
The ship is transporting 600 passengers twice daily, leaving those who remain behind in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, the aid group said.
The IRC said it is providing medical care in Kagunga, on the boat and at a transit camp in Kigoma. After making it to Kigoma, about 16,000 refugees have moved on to Nyarugusu refugee camp, a journey of up to four hours by road.
Cases of acute diarrhoea and cholera have been confirmed, according to WHO.
The UN high commissioner for refugees office reported that at least seven Burundian refugees had died of severe diarrhoea.
Demonstrators in Bujumbura say they will continue to protest until Pierre Nkurunziza, Burundi’s president, steps down at the end of his second term this year.
Burundi’s constitution states that a president can be popularly elected to a five-year terms, renewable once. Nkurunziza maintains he can run for a third term because parliament elected him for his first one.
Opponents say a third term violates the constitution and peace accords that ended a civil war in 2005.