Drought and infrastructure destruction lead to rise in Cholera cases in Syria

By Tobias Schmitz

6 Oct 2022 by The Water Diplomat

On the 12th of September, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria expressed serious concern over the ongoing cholera outbreak in Syria. On the 10th of September, the Syrian Ministry of Health declared an outbreak of cholera in Aleppo governorate following 15 confirmed cases and one death. By the 26th of September, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 338 and the number of deaths from the disease had risen to 29. According to an update from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on the 21st of September, the number of suspected – but not laboratory confirmed  - cases  were 2, 092.  The IRC noted that cholera can spread rapidly in the Syrian context, where there are more than 7 million internally displaced people, access to drinking water has declined by 40% relative to the period before the conflict, and there are suspicions that the Euphrates River may be contaminated.

A rapid assessment conducted by health authorities in partnership with international partners led to the understanding that that the outbreak may be linked to the drinking of unsafe water directly from the Euphrates River, and the use of contaminated water to irrigate crops. The outbreak of Cholera is seen by the UN as an indicator of increasing shortages of water: the Euphrates River Basin (ERB) is experiencing exceptional drought conditions, and in combination with the destruction of national water infrastructure, large sections of the population are forced to rely on unsafe sources of drinking water.

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and in partnership with UNICEF, the WHO and many local partners, work is underway to strengthen preparedness and response capacity in all governorates. The responses include the distribution of rapid diagnostic tests, intravenous fluids and oral rehydration salts, the upscaling of chlorination activities, and the trucking of clean water to needy communities.

The ERB has experienced exceptional drought conditions since January, with water levels at historic low point.