UN warns of ‘serious threat’ from Syria cholera outbreak

The UN says outbreak connected to ‘severe water shortages’ caused by drought, destruction of infrastructure.

The UN believes the outbreak is connected to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates river in Syria [File: Aboud Hamam/Reuters]

A continuing cholera outbreak presents a “serious threat” to people in Syria and the wider region, the United Nations has warned.

In a statement on Tuesday, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria Imran Riza said the outbreak is believed to be linked to the irrigation of crops with contaminated water, as well as people drinking from the Euphrates river, which runs north to east in the country from the Turkish border to the Iraqi border, dissecting Syria’s northern Aleppo province.

At least 70 percent of the 936 cases recorded from August 25 to September 10 were reported in Aleppo, with more than 20 percent reported in Deir Az Zor in the east. Other suspected cases were reported in Raqqa, Hassakeh, Hama and Latakia.

Richard Brennan, the regional emergency director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Region, said the agency had recorded eight deaths from the disease since August 25 – six in Aleppo and two in Deir Az Zor.

“This is the first confirmed cholera outbreak in recent years … the geographic spread gives cause for concern and so we have to move fast,” he told Reuters.

The number of confirmed cholera cases was 20 in Aleppo, four in Latakia and two in Damascus as of Tuesday.

The UN said the outbreak underscored “severe shortages of water” throughout Syria, where much of the population relies on unsafe water sources following the destruction of national water infrastructure during more than a decade of war.

The situation has been made worse by drought-like conditions that have caused water levels along the Euphrates to drop. Farmers have also blamed Turkey’s water policies for the decrease in flow.

Brennan said the WHO was appealing to donors to increase funding as the organisation was already dealing with several cholera outbreaks in the region, including in Pakistan where floods have exacerbated a pre-existing outbreak.

“We need to scale up surveillance and testing capacity … efforts are under way to truck clean water to the communities most affected,” he said

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies