GENEVA/BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - About 3,000 refugees fleeing political turmoil in Burundi have been infected in a cholera epidemic in neighboring Tanzania, the United Nations said on Friday, stoking fears of a growing humanitarian crisis in Africa’s Great Lakes.
Up to 400 new cases of the deadly disease were emerging every day, the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR said, mainly in Tanzania’s Kagunga peninsula where tens of thousands of Burundians have taken refuge, often in squalid conditions.
Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision last month to stand for a third term has triggered protests, a failed coup and sent refugees, many from Burundi’s Tutsi minority, into Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Opponents have accused Nkurunziza of breaking a two-term limit in the constitution and a deal that ended an ethnically-fueled civil war in 2005. Regional leaders and Western donors, fearing the unrest could reopen ethnic divisions, have scrambled to try and end the standoff.
A Tanzanian health official told Reuters on Wednesday that at least 33 people had died from cholera in Tanzania near Lake Tanganyika.
“The epidemic is still worsening. To date some 3,000 cases have been reported, and numbers are increasing at 300-400 new cases per day, particularly in Kagunga and nearby areas,” U.N. refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists on Thursday.
Some cases had also been reported in Burundi, he said, without elaborating.
The UNHCR appealed to donors on Friday for $207 million to help it deal with the refugee crisis.
An estimated 100,000 Burundians have already fled and the UNHCR said the exodus could double in coming months as the political tensions continued.
At least two people were killed and 30 wounded when three grenades went off in a market in the Burundian capital Bujumbura on Friday evening, a Reuters witness said.
Earlier in the day police fired teargas at protesters who hurled stones and burned tires in neighborhoods of the city, the latest sign of more than thee weeks of unrest.
Nkurunziza points to a constitutional court ruling allowing him to stand again, on the grounds that his first term did not count because he was picked by parliament and not elected in a popular vote. Opponents say the court is biased.
Burundi’s civil war largely pitted majority Hutus against minority Tutsis. The renewed unrest has caused particular concerns in neighboring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic mix and suffered a genocide in 1994 that killed 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Cholera, endemic in Tanzania and Burundi, is an intestinal infection often linked to contaminated drinking water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, leaving small children especially vulnerable to death from dehydration.
“The risk is that everybody uses the same water source and it spreads like wildfire,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Christian Lindmeier told Reuters.
Editing by Andrew Heavens