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Cameroon

Cameroon - US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Cameroon is a developing country in central Africa.
Although there are many natural and cultural attractions in Cameroon, facilities catering to Western-styl
tourism are quite limited.
The capital is Yaoundé, though Douala, the country's largest city, is its main port and commercial center.
Official languages are French and English, though French predominates in most of the country.
English may be used in Cameroon's two Anglophone provinces of Southwest and Northwest, and the larger cities.
The staff of major hotels in Cameroon’s large cities is usually bilingual.
In February 2008, social and political unrest led to civil unrest, although the immediate threat of violence has now receded.
For general information on Cameroon, read the Department of State Background Notes on Cameroon.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport, visa, evidence of yellow-fever vaccination, and current immunization records are required, and travelers may be denied entry if they lack the proper documentation.
Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon, 2349 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington D.C. 20008, tel: (202) 265-8790, fax: (202) 387-3826.
Visit the Embassy of Cameroon’s web site at http://www.ambacam-usa.org/ for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
During the week of February 25, 2008, Cameroon experienced significant civil unrest in half of its ten provinces, most notably in the port city of Douala.
Demonstrators clashed violently with police and then military personnel, resulting in the reported deaths of forty persons and arrest of over 1,600 individuals.
The unrest was marked by widespread road blockages, attacks on public and private vehicles, looting, burning of government and other buildings, and roaming crowds of malcontents.
This disturbance created shortages of fuel, food and other supplies throughout the country, and was ended through the deployment of military units and the use of significant force.

Following the restoration of order, some efforts have been made to address fuel and food prices that were among the key grievances of the demonstrators.
However, economic conditions, notably the high unemployment rate, remain difficult without the prospect for rapid improvement.
Political tensions also remain, particularly over a possible amendment to the Constitution that would allow President Biya to serve again.
Although a rapid resumption of violence is considered unlikely, Americans living in or visiting Cameroon are encouraged to stay abreast of local political and social developments that could signal additional difficulties for the country.

Embassy employees have been instructed to refrain from travel outside of city limits after dusk, and to monitor their movements in centrally located areas within cities and towns.
Private American citizens are urged to follow the same guidelines and are strongly advised against nighttime travel.
Armed highway bandits (most notably in border areas); poorly lit roads; hazardous, poorly maintained vehicles; and unskilled, aggressive and/or intoxicated drivers pose a threat to motorists.
Attacks and accidents are most common outside major towns, especially in the provinces bordering Chad and the Central African Republic but occur in all areas of the country.

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to neighboring Central African Republic (CAR).
On occasion, conflict between insurgents and government security forces in CAR has spilled across the border into Cameroon, affecting outposts in both Adamawa and East Provinces.
Humanitarian and religious workers in eastern Cameroon are strongly encouraged to coordinate their efforts with the Embassy and the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Yaoundé.

In February 2008, an attack by rebel insurgents on Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, forced the evacuation of the Embassy in Chad and sent up to 50,000 refugees across the border into the town of Kousseri in Cameroon.
Although the attack was ultimately repelled, the possibility of further military action by the rebel forces remains.

In late 2006, inter-ethnic clashes were reported in the town of Kye-Ossi near the Cameroonian border with Gabon.
These confrontations were a result of a discord between moto-taxi drivers and the security forces, which resulted in demonstrations and roadblocks.
According to security authorities, tensions in the area are still high, despite the deployment of a large security force to the region.

Following a ruling from the International Court of Justice defining a section of the Cameroon-Nigeria border, Cameroon assumed administrative control of most of the Bakassi Peninsula, in August 2006, with Nigerian military forces withdrawing across the border.
Although the transition has generally gone smoothly, there was an attack on Cameroonian military forces in November 2007, reportedly by criminal elements from the Niger Delta not connected to the Nigerian government.
It is very difficult to reach Bakassi, but travelers thinking of going near there should exercise extreme caution as there is the potential for violence if tensions rise.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Crime is a serious and growing problem throughout Cameroon and U.S. citizens should exercise caution when traveling in Cameroon.
Internet-based crime is escalating rapidly, and Americans should be extremely skeptical of financial
transactions --
e.g. adoptions, hiring a service worker, such as a nanny, to come to the U.S., or purchasing a pet -- that involve sending money for goods or services not yet delivered (see below).
In February 2008, two European nationals were kidnapped by criminals posing as businessmen seeking to establish a palm oil export business. Although several perpetrators were arrested and the individuals were not harmed, the incident highlights a dangerous new confluence of internet-based and violent crime.
If you have concerns about the legitimacy of a transaction, such as adoption, in Cameroon contact the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon – see Registration/Embassy Location section below.
All foreigners are potential targets for theft with possible attendant violence.
Petty crimes, crimes against persons, thefts from vehicles, and of vehicles are the most common criminal activities.
Armed banditry is a growing problem throughout all ten provinces in Cameroon.
Specifically, incidents of armed highway-robbery have been reported in the North West, West, South West and East provinces.
Armed bandits have erected road barricades on major routes that link rural towns to provincial headquarters, and have taken as many as 100 cars in a single attack.
To curb banditry, security personnel may request persons to show their passport, residence card, driver's license, and/or vehicle registration at random checkpoints.
Certified copies of these important documents should be kept in a secure location separate from the originals.
Security personnel have been known to ask for bribes and may hurt citizens who refuse to pay.
The U.S. Government does not condone bribery or corruption of any kind.

Due to the frequency of criminal incidents involving public transportation, American citizens are advised that use of public taxis can be dangerous.
In April 2007, two American women were assaulted and robbed in a taxi.
Public taxis in Cameroon function more like the U.S. bus system with drivers stopping to pick up additional passengers as long as there is space left in the vehicle.
There have been numerous reports of assaults and robberies committed by "passengers" in shared taxis since crimes – rape and robbery being among the most common – are often a collaborative effort between the driver and "passengers."
If a traveler must use a taxi, the use of a private taxi – or a taxi hired for exclusive use by the individual for that particular trip – where the driver is known to the passenger is a better alternative to the use of shared taxis.
Taxi passengers should be particularly vigilant at night.

The risk of street and residential crime is high, and incidents of violent crime are on the rise throughout the country.
During the last year, the number of carjacking and armed burglary incidents in residences and restaurants, particularly in Yaoundé and Douala, continued to increase.
Carjacking and robbery has also been reported on rural highways, especially in the Northern provinces and regions near Cameroon's border with the Central African Republic.

On March 27, 2006, 11 armed men attacked a group of four U.S. citizens in a private residence (adjacent to a hotel frequented by expatriates) in Kribi, located in the Southern province.
A group of five armed bandits held up and robbed staff and guests of a hotel in Ngaoundere (Adamawa Province) on December 20, 2006.
Similar incidents occurred in the middle of the night at hotels in Bertoua (East Province) on April 22, 2007, and in Yaoundé (Central Province) on May 15, 2007 when assailants broke into hotel rooms and robbed the residents.
Americans were among the victims.
Crimes against property, such as carjacking and burglaries, have often been accompanied by violent acts and have resulted in fatalities.
There were four incidents of armed robberies in the month of April 2007, involving American citizens in or near restaurants in Yaoundé and Bertoua.

In January 2007, a French expatriate was fatally shot in the upscale Bastos neighborhood of Yaoundé.
The woman was dropping off a friend to her residence and interrupted an attempted home invasion.
Upon realizing what was happening, the friend returned to the vehicle and both women attempted to flee the scene.
As they were leaving, an armed bandit shot and fatally wounded the driver of the vehicle.

In September 2007, several expatriates suffered armed attacks.
In one incident, an Israeli citizen giving a ride to a friend was attacked in Bastos by two men with knives.
In the ensuing scuffle, the Israeli was critically wounded.
A Moroccan diplomat was fatally injured while walking near his residence.
Found unconscious by security guards, he was taken to a local hospital where he died the following day.
A Chinese business woman was also robbed and killed outside her home in a neighborhood near Bastos.
All incidents occurred late at night.

In December 2007, a police officer was arrested and jailed in Yaoundé after he and his accomplices surprised a couple returning from Europe and stole a briefcase and jewelry.

In January 2008, three bandits posing as passengers on a bus to Douala – and carrying locally made guns - were intercepted at Bafoussam and apprehended.
In Douala, armed bandits robbed a soap company at gun point, surprising the employees.
They attempted to loot the company’s computers, but were intercepted by a SWAT team and ran off.
Also in January, an Embassy employee using public transportation in the Northwest Province was the victim of highway robbers, who robbed the passengers (including a local mayor) and roughed-up those who did not have enough money.
In February 2008, Cameroon experienced a brief period of civil unrest during a taxi strike that involved road blockages, attacks on public and private vehicles, looting, burning of government and other buildings, and roaming crowds of malcontents.
This period was attended by a sharp increase in reported crimes, including the stabbing death of a night watchman at a residence in Yaoundé, an attack at the Brussels Airline travel agency in the Bonapriso district of Douala, an attack by a group of armed bandits on a motorbike rider who suffered a gunshot wound to the head, and numerous reports of rape and armed attacks with firearms and machetes in Douala.

Recently, many American citizens have become victims of Cameroonian advance-fee fraud and other scams offering antiques, exotic and domesticated animals, and even adoption services through the Internet.
Americans should be very cautious about sending money or traveling to Cameroon to meet someone contacted via the Internet.
Commercial scams targeting foreigners, including many U.S. citizens, continue to be a problem.
The scams generally involve phony offers of lucrative sales and repeated requests for additional funds to pay for unforeseen airport and/or customs fees.
No one should provide personal financial or account information to unknown parties.
The ability of U.S. Embassy officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals and the consequences is limited.
For more information on international financial scams, including those involving Internet dating, a promise of an inheritance windfall, a promise of a work contract overseas, overpayment for goods purchased on-line, or money-laundering, see the Department of State's publication International Financial Scams.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime .

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Cameroon are extremely limited.
Even in large cities, emergency care and hospitalization for major illnesses and surgery are hampered by the lack of trained specialists, outdated diagnostic equipment, and poor sanitation.
Medical services in outlying areas may be completely nonexistent.
Doctors and hospitals often require immediate payment for health services in cash.
Pharmacies in larger towns are well stocked, but in other areas many medicines are unavailable.
Travelers are advised to carry their own supply of needed prescription and anticipated over-the-counter medicines.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease.
Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the type that predominates in Cameroon, is resistant to the antimalarial drug chloroquine.
Because travelers to Cameroon are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™) as prophylaxis to reduce this risk.
Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area, and up to one year after returning home, should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC Travelers’ Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.
There are periodic outbreaks of cholera in Cameroon.
Yellow fever can cause serious medical problems, but the vaccine, required for entry, is very effective in preventing the disease.

In March 2006, avian influenza (H5N1) was confirmed in wild ducks in northern Cameroon.
There have been no reports of avian influenza among humans in Cameroon.
Avian influenza has been reported in both birds and humans in neighboring Nigeria.
For additional information on avian influenza as it affects American citizens residing abroad, please visit the U.S. Department of State’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas .

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Cameroon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Cameroon's road networks, both paved and unpaved, are poorly maintained and unsafe at all times of the year.
Vehicles are poorly maintained and there is no mechanism or requirement to inspect for roadworthiness.
During the rainy season, many roads are barely passable with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards (especially at night) and road safety rules are frequently ignored.
There are few road and traffic signs; speed limits are neither posted nor enforced.
Buses and logging trucks travel at excessive speed and are a constant threat to other road traffic.

Travelers on roads near the borders with CAR and Chad should ensure that their vehicles are fully fueled, and that they have adequate cooking fuel, food, and water for several days as well as a reliable means of communication, such as a satellite or cell phone, or radio.

Visitors who are not in possession of a valid passport and a visa may experience difficulties at police roadblocks or other security checkpoints.
It is not uncommon for a uniformed member of the security forces to stop motorists on the pretext of a minor or non-existent violation of local motor vehicle regulations in order to extort small bribes.
Visitors are advised not to pay bribes and to request that the officer provide a citation to be paid at the local court.

Local law states that vehicles involved in an accident should not be moved until the police arrive and a police report can be made.
If an accident results in injury, drivers should be aware of the possibility that a "village justice" mentality may develop.
If an angry crowd forms, drive directly to the U.S. Embassy or another location where you can receive assistance.
Contact the local police once you are safely away from danger.
Cameroon has no real equivalent to 911-type service or roadside emergency telephone numbers, but you can dial 112 in major cities to contact ambulance services.
American citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy (237) 2220-1500 if emergency assistance is needed.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Cameroon, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Cameroon’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
While visiting game parks and reserves, tourists should bear in mind that they are ultimately responsible for maintaining their own safety.
Tourists should use common sense when approaching wildlife, maintain a safe distance from animals, and heed all instructions given by guides or trackers.
Even in the most serene settings, the animals in Cameroon's game parks are wild and can pose a threat to life and safety.

Cameroonian Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Cameroon of items such as large quantities of medicine or wood products.
Customs regulations also restrict the importation of ivory.
Please see our information on customs regulations.

Cash in local currency, the Central African franc (CFA), is the only form of payment accepted throughout the country.
Larger hotels in Yaoundé and Douala will change U.S. dollars and cash traveler's checks, though at a disadvantageous rate.
Credit card cash advances are not available, and most banks do not cash personal or traveler's checks for non-clients.
While credit cards are accepted at some larger hotels and shops in Yaoundé and Douala, caution is urged, as identity theft is endemic in the region.
Some larger banks in Yaoundé and Douala have ATM facilities, and several banks in Cameroon have wire transfer services through Western Union.
The U.S. Embassy does not provide currency exchange, check cashing or other financial services.
Tourists and business travelers should also note that there is an increasing circulation of counterfeit U.S. and Cameroonian currency in the country.
In recent years, business travelers have experienced difficulty in obtaining adequate services from Cameroon's banking sector.
Business travelers are also advised that using the services of a local agent is strongly recommended in establishing a presence in the Cameroonian market.

While photography is not officially forbidden, security officials are sensitive about photographs taken of government buildings, military installations, and other public facilities, many of which are unmarked.
Photography of these subjects may result in seizure of photographic equipment by Cameroonian authorities.
Due to the threat of harassment and the lack of signs designating sites prohibited for photography, photography should be limited to private homes and among friends.
U.S. citizens are advised to seek proper permission before taking a photograph of a specific subject or location.

The government of Cameroon has recently started enforcing laws against homosexuality.
Charges of homosexuality and/or of corruption are also made and enforced indiscriminately in the course of business or personal disputes.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Cameroonian law does not afford many of the protections to which Americans are accustomed, and legal proceedings tend to be complex, lengthy, and subject to inappropriate influence.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Additionally, the condition of detention centers, while improving, is poor.
Persons violating Cameroonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
During the February 2008 civil unrest, there were reports that people were arrested arbitrarily by law enforcement officials quelling the civil disorder that ensued.
Although no expatriates were known to have been arrested, the Department of State cautions Americans against venturing out during such periods of unrest.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Cameroon are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Cameroon are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Cameroon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé is located on Avenue Rosa Parks in the Mbankolo Quartier, adjacent to the Mount Febe Golf Club; mailing address P.O. Box 817; embassy tel. (237) 2220-1500, fax: (237) 2220-1572.
The Embassy Branch Office in Douala is located on the corner of Rue Ivy and Rue French in the Ecobank Building in Bonanjo, tel: (237) 3342-5331, fax: (237) 3342-7790.
Further information, including the U.S. Embassy's business hours, is available at the U.S. Embassy's web site: http://yaounde.usembassy.gov.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Cameroon dated 7 June 2007, to update sections on Country Description, Entry and Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Aviation Safety Oversight, Criminal Penalties, Children’s Issues, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 9 Jul 2019
Source: Agence Cameroun Presse [in French, trans. Corr.SB, edited]

A highly contagious disease with faecal-oral transmission, cholera is transmitted by dirty hands or by food contamination and water (contaminated water). According to our colleague, [Journal du Cameroun], 48 deaths due to cholera have been recorded in the northern part of Cameroon.

According to figures compiled on Mon 8 Jul 2019 by the Ministry of Public Health (Minsante), the cholera epidemic, which is raging in the northern part of Cameroon, has already killed 48 people. The northern region, which has been particularly affected by this epidemic for almost a year, has a fatality rate of 6.2%.

Outside the North, the neighbouring Far North region is also affected by the disease, which raises fears of a spread of the disease with the onset of rains in this part of the country. Cholera had also been reported in the southern part of the country, particularly in the Central and Littoral regions, where one death had been registered.

According to the Journal du Cameroun, since the reappearance of the disease last February 2019, 775 reported cases have been counted and confirmed, revealing "an alarming epidemiological situation".

It should be noted that cholera 1st appeared in Cameroon in 1971. Since 1990, major epidemics have been recorded, particularly in 1991, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2010 and 2011. The general trend shows an annual increase in the number of cases. Between 2004 and 2016, epidemiological surveillance reported 50 007 cases with 2052 deaths, a high case fatality rate of 4.1%.

The main epidemics were recorded in the north, in the northern regions and the Far North and in the south of the country in the Littoral region, which is home to the economic capital Douala.  [Byline: Danielle Ngono Efondo]
Date: Thu, 30 May 2019 19:24:40 +0200

Yaoundé, May 30, 2019 (AFP) - Cameroon has declared a public emergency after reporting a polio case in its far north, four years after the virus disappeared from the country, the health ministry said on Thursday.   The confirmed case of polio type 2 was found in the Mada area in the remote north bordering Chad and Nigeria, the ministry said in a statement.   It declared a "new polio epidemic following the confirmation of a case of poliovirus type 2 detected in samples."

A source at the ministry said the outbreak may have been caused in part by a refusal of vaccinations and the cross-border movement of people in the area.   Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can only be prevented through immunisation.   International polio vaccination efforts have run into problems in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Militants and religious leaders in rural areas often tell locals immunisation is part of a shadowy conspiracy to weaken their faith.
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2018 11:40:16 +0100

Yaoundé, Nov 28, 2018 (AFP) - At least 29 people were wounded Wednesday when a women bomber blew herself up in a border town in Cameroon's Far North, a region frequently hit by Boko Haram jihadists, security sources said.    But a second bomber was shot dead by troops deployed in the town before she could detonate her explosives, the source said.    "A suicide bomber blew herself up this morning in Amchide" on the Nigerian border, a regional security source said, speaking on condition of anonymity and giving a toll of 29 wounded.

The attack occurred on market day when the town was filling up with early-morning shoppers, a local civil defence group official said.    "There were many people hurt, I saw about 20," he said. "After the attack, the market emptied."   A once-bustling trade hub, in 2014 Amchide was thrust into the forefront of a major battle between Cameroonian troops and Boko Haram militants who held the nearby Nigerian town of Banki for several months.    The violence forced most residents to flee the town, although some have now begun to return.    After pushing back Boko Haram, the Cameroonian army dug long trenches around Amchide and even inside the town to foil new incursions by the jihadists, with Wednesday's attack the first in many months.
Date: Fri 26 Oct 2018
Source: PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2018;12:e0006750 [edited]

Wanji S, Chounna Ndongmo WP, Fombad FF, et al. Impact of repeated annual community-directed treatment with ivermectin on loiasis parasitological indicators in Cameroon: implications for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis elimination in areas co-endemic with _Loa loa_ in Africa. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2018;12:e0006750.

Abstract
---------
Background
Loiasis is a filarial infection endemic in the rainforest zone of west and central Africa, particularly in Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Repeated treatments with ivermectin have been delivered using the annual community-directed treatment with ivermectin (CDTI) approach for several years to control onchocerciasis in some _Loa loa_ and _Onchocerca volvulus_ co-endemic areas. The impact of CDTI on loiasis parasitological indicators is not known. Therefore, we designed this cross-sectional study to explore the effects of several rounds of CDTI on parasitological indicators of loiasis.

Methodology/principal findings
The study was conducted in the East, Northwest, and Southwest 2 CDTI projects of Cameroon. Individuals who consented to participate were interviewed for ivermectin treatment history and enrolled for parasitological screening using thick smears. Ivermectin treatment history was correlated with loiasis prevalence/intensity. A total of 3684 individuals were recruited from 36 communities of the 3 CDTI projects, and 900 individuals were from 9 villages in a non-CDTI district. In the East, loiasis prevalence was 29.3% (range, 24.2% to 34.6%) in the non-CDTI district but 16.0% (3.3% to 26.6%) in the CDTI district with 10 ivermectin rounds (there were no baseline data for the latter).

In the Northwest and Southwest 2 districts, reductions from 30.5% to 17.9% (after 9 ivermectin rounds) and from 8.1% to 7.8% (not significantly different after 14 rounds) were registered post-CDTI, respectively. Similar trends in infection intensity were observed in all sites. There was a negative relationship between adherence to ivermectin treatment and prevalence/intensity of infection in all sites. None of the children (ages 10 to 14 years) examined in the East CDTI project harboured high (8000 to 30,000 mf/mL) or very high (more than 30,000 mf/mL) microfilarial loads. Individuals who had taken more than 5 ivermectin treatments were 2.1 times more likely to present with no microfilaraemia than those with fewer treatments.

Conclusion
In areas where onchocerciasis and loiasis are co-endemic, CDTI reduces the number of and microfilaraemia in _L. loa_-infected individuals, and this, in turn, will help to prevent non-neurological and neurological complications post-ivermectin treatment among CDTI adherents.
====================
[Onchocerciasis (African River blindness) is a neglected tropical disease, but the invasive nematode _Loa loa_ is not on the list. The study clearly demonstrates that scheduled regular ivermectin against onchocerciasis also reduced the nematode burden of _L. loa_.

_L. loa_, the African eye worm, is a nematode transmitted by tabanid flies (Order: Diptera; Family: Tabanidae) of the genus _Chrysops_. _L. loa_ may cause skin oedema (Calabar swellings) and may occasionally invade the eye. As far as it is known, there is no animal reservoir. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map:
Date: Sat, 6 Oct 2018 04:59:35 +0200
By Gregory WALTON

Buea, Cameroon, Oct 6, 2018 (AFP) - "For the peak season I would have about 280 persons climbing Mount Cameroon," said John Ngomba, a tour guide in the town of Buea, which has been at the forefront of Cameroon's anglophone separatist insurgency.   "But now there are no tourists coming. It's really crazy. The reason tourists are not coming is because of the crisis."

Since an independence declaration a year ago, Buea -- once a tourist hotspot -- has suffered near-daily clashes and visitors have all but disappeared.   The violence has claimed the lives of at least 420 civilians, 175 members of the security forces and an unknown number of separatists, according to the International Crisis Group think-tank.   "Sometimes I would receive 600 Germans a year. They would come through the cruise ships. I could have about 30 to 50 tourists a week who came to visit," said Ngomba in his hut in the town's Bismarck Fountain gardens.

Cameroon was once a German colony but was divided between Britain and France after World War I -- a separation that lies at the heart of the current conflict.   France's colony won independence in 1960, becoming Cameroon, and in 1961 the British-ruled Southern Cameroons was merged into it, giving the new state English-speaking majorities in the northwest and southwest.   "I am a father of five children. How am I living with them? It's impossible," said Ngomba, who has appealed for help from the German embassy, which assists with the upkeep of the garden containing a bust of Bismarck.

- Empty hotels -
"The fountain is not even working," he said, looking out over the restive town below and the former German governor's residence, which is now an army base.   But Ngomba insisted that the foothills above Buea remained safe.   "If the tourists arrive and get to this point, they are safe," he said.   "I tell people: after the election, things will be OK," he added of polls due on unday at which President Paul Biya will seek a seventh term.

But several countries including Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States have issued security advisories to their citizens about the anglophone regions.   "We used to have customers coming from many countries -- America, Europe, Nigeria," said Janet Nkowo, 30, a receptionist at the Eta Palace Hotel in downtown Buea.   "I think it's because of the crisis. The difference is really clear," she said.   "We have one-quarter of what we had, I don't know how the director does it. I think things will hopefully get better on Sunday."

Most of Buea's hotels are sitting empty, the majority of shops are shuttered and only a handful of students queued up at the town's university to register for the new academic term.   A total of 246,000 people have fled their homes in the southwest region that includes Buea -- and 25,000 have left the country altogether for Nigeria, according to UN figures.

At the town's weekly market, one of the few retail outlets still functioning, many stalls sat empty.   A man in a white vest shouted "French bastards" at passers-by, in French.   "Maybe if voting passes well, they will come back," said Fidelis Kum, a stallholder selling hair extensions, as customers haggled over live chickens nearby and women sat shelling snails.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."