The alert that has been in effect for three weeks could become a “threat” for the entire region. The epicenter is the provinces of Aleppo and Deir al-Zour. One of the causes would be the use of contaminated water from the Euphrates River. Conflict and climate change are other risk factors. Experts call for “urgent” measures.
Damascus () – The cholera epidemic, the first in many years, which has broken out in Syria in the last three weeks could become a “threat” for the entire region. The World Health Organization (WHO) sounded the alarm, confirming the dramatic magnitude of the new health emergency that has been unleashed in a country that is still suffering the consequences of decades of conflict and whose health structures have collapsed. So far, 936 suspected cases with obvious symptoms of the disease have been identified and there are eight confirmed victims.
The epicenter of the infections are the provinces of Aleppo and Deir al-Zour. One of the possible causes would be the use of contaminated water from the Euphrates River, which is used both for daily consumption and for irrigation of fields and crops. According to experts, the epidemic is also considered an indicator of the serious shortage of drinking water in the country, both due to the consequences of the war and the devastating effects of climate change in the Middle East, including rising temperatures, rainfall well below average and low flow from tributaries upstream in Turkey.
Climate effects, combined with a lack of infrastructure, have left most of the five million people who rely on the Euphrates to irrigate their fields and meet their personal needs without water. The Syrian Ministry of Health, released by the Sana agency, reported that on September 12 in Aleppo province there were 20 cases (670 in total) and two victims. Four in the coastal province of Latakia and two more in Damascus, in patients from Aleppo. There are 201 suspected cases in Deir al-Zour.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated by the bacterium Vibrio cholera. In severe cases, and if not treated properly, the disease can kill within hours. “The epidemic – underlines Imran Riza, UN humanitarian coordinator – constitutes a serious threat to the population of Syria and the region”. For this reason, continues the local United Nations official, “it is necessary to act urgently to avoid further infections and victims.”
Since 2009, there have been no official cases of cholera in Syria. According to the latest estimates, infections affect at least five of the country’s 14 provinces. Unicef data shows that about half of the population depends on unsafe water sources, while 70% of wastewater is not treated properly. Worldwide, the disease affects between 1.3 and 4 million people each year and causes between 21,000 and 143,000 deaths.