African Dams Linked to Over One Million Malaria Cases

Published 14 September 2015

Over one million people in sub-Saharan Africa will contract malaria this year because they live near a large dam, according to a new study from the University of New England, published in this month’s Malaria Journal.

The study also predicts that the 78 major new dams to be built in sub-Saharan Africa over the next few years will lead to an additional 56,000 malaria cases annually.

Encouraged by the increased volume of international aid for water resource development, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a new era of large dam construction in recent years.

Lead author, UNE PhD student Mr Solomon Kibret, and co-author Dr Glenn Wilson said that dams are central to much development planning in Africa.

“While dams clearly bring many benefits—contributing to economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security—adverse increases in malaria incidents need to be addressed”, Mr Kibret explained.

Map showing spatial distribution of existing and planned dams in Africa with respect to the 2010 malaria stability indexing (E no. existing dams, P no. planned dams) (adapted from Kibret et al. 2015)

Map showing spatial distribution of existing and planned dams in Africa with respect to the 2010 malaria stability indexing (E no. existing dams, P no. planned dams) (adapted from Kibret et al. 2015)

The study looked at 1,268 dams in sub-Saharan Africa and found that two-thirds of these, or 723, were located in areas where malaria is endemic.

“The results show that the populations living near dams are at least four times more likely to be infected by malaria,” Mr Kibret said.

The findings come at a critical time, when a number of African countries are planning new dams to help drive economic growth and increase water security.

To address this situation, the article makes a number of recommendations on how the successfully manage the risk of spreading malaria.

“Adopting dam operating schedules to help dry out shoreline areas where mosquitoes tend to breed; using pesticides to stop larva growing on reservoir shorelines; and distributing bed nets to houses in close proximity to open water sources would all be effective solutions in curbing rates of malaria”, Mr Kibret added.

The authors are continuing their research by developing new methods to incorporate malaria control into dam management in Africa.

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For further information, please contact Solomon Kibret on +61 2 6773 5224 (Office) or +61 431 731 298 (Mobile) or sbirhani@une.edu.au.