Two people have died of cholera in northwestern Syria after devastating earthquakes hit the region, emergency responders in the opposition-held area say.
The total number of cholera deaths recorded in the northwest since the outbreak began last year has now risen to 22 with another 568 non-fatal cases reported, the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said in a tweet on Tuesday.
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“The destruction of infrastructure, water and sewage lines after the earthquake increases the possibility of an outbreak of the disease,” the volunteer group posted.
The earthquakes have worsened conditions in refugee camps in the area, which already lacked sanitation and access to clean water.
“Even before the earthquake, the area was severely affected by a lack of proper sewerage systems as 63 percent of the refugee camps lacked proper sewerage and 43 percent lacked access to clean water,” activist Nour Qormoosh told Al Jazeera.
Qourmoosh said hospitals and health workers are struggling to treat people injured in the February 6 earthquakes.
“They are trying to cope with a lack of funds as the UN’s response is getting slower with time and is not meeting the increasing need for medical attention,” he said.
Thousands of residents are homeless after the quakes destroyed their houses, and Qormoosh cited figures compiled by local officials that 20,000 buildings had been destroyed or left inhabitable.
“Thousands of people have been living in shelters provided by NGOs since the beginning of the disaster, and they are severely crowded,” he said. “The environment they are living in right now will be infected by diseases, especially the latest spread of cholera.”
A report by the United Nations Security Council last week said the ongoing outbreak had been worsened by “severe shortages” of clean water across the country.
It added that Syria’s wet season had been “unusually dry” and hot.
The cholera outbreak was first linked in September to contaminated water near the Euphrates River. It has since spread across various areas of control in the nation fractured by more than a decade of war.