BEIRUT (AP) — The outbreak of cholera in Syria presents a serious threat to people in the war-torn country and the region, a U.N. official said Tuesday, adding that urgent action is needed to prevent further cases and deaths.
The statement by the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Imran Riza, came after health officials in the country reported at least five deaths and more than two dozen cases in different provinces.
Syria’s infrastructure has suffered severe damage since the country’s conflict began in March 2011 where residents of some areas have no access to clean water. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, many of them living in tent settlements around the country.
Riza said that based on a rapid assessment conducted by health authorities and partners, the source of infection is believed to be linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, resulting in food contamination.
“Cholera remains a global threat to public health and an indicator of inequity,” Riza said, adding that the outbreak is an indicator of severe water shortages in Syria.
The statement said chlorination activities to disinfect water are being scaled up and dosing rates are being increased in fragile and highly vulnerable communities to curb the spread of the disease.
On Monday, health officials said hospitals in the Syrian capital have been put on alert after more than two dozen cases of cholera and at least five deaths were reported.
The cases were reported in several provinces including Aleppo in the north, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and Deir el-Zour along the border with Iraq.
The outbreak was the first since the country’s conflict began 11 years ago.
Riza said the U.N. in Syria calls on donor countries for urgent additional funding to contain the outbreak and prevent it from spreading.