U.N. responds to cholera outbreak in eastern Mali

A major cholera outbreak in eastern Mali is the result of poor access to clean drinking water, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Tuesday.

OCHA said more than 60 percent of the population in the city of Gao has no access to clean drinking water. The city has a population of approximately 70,000 people. Since the cholera outbreak began, there have been 22 cases of cholera with two deaths.

Jens Laerke, an OCHA representative, said that while there were no new cases reported in the past five days, the cholera risk is still high.

"The Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali, Aurélien Agbénonci, was in Gao on mission (on May 25) with OCHA, (the World Food Program) and (the World Health Organization)," Laerke said. "He said after the mission that the rehabilitation of water supply is imperative to urgently assist the population of some 70,000 people in the town. Some neighborhoods in Gao do not have water at all due to dysfunctional pumps and lack of electricity. Outside of the city the situation is even worse because the Niger River is the only source of water and there are concerns about cholera outbreaks. There is food distribution ongoing to about a third of the population in Gao, but that covers only part of the needs, according to the mission participants."

The U.N.'s humanitarian appeal for Mali of $410 million is currently 29 percent funded.