Cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhea gripping Syria and Lebanon add a layer to the suffering of the people in the two neighboring countries and are another reminder of how crucial it is to support and sustain critical infrastructure that enables the delivery of essential services.
“A public health emergency is the last thing these two countries need,” said Fabrizzio Carboni, the regional director for the Near and Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “In addition to immediate assistance, longer term support and more durable solutions aiming to promote the resilience of essential infrastructure are of vital importance.”
In addition to struggling with the consequences of armed violence and an economic crash, communities living in Syria and Lebanon are paying the price of overstretched healthcare systems as well as water and sewage systems on the verge of collapse, heavily compromising hygiene and sanitation.
In Syria, more than 11 years of conflict have seriously damaged the water network, reducing supply by between 30 and 40 per cent. Only 52 per cent of the country’s hospitals are operational.
Preventing the collapse of critical infrastructure means communities maintain at least minimal access to essential services such as safe water and health care. If these facilities totally collapse, the impact on communities, from the spread of infectious disease to the potential displacement of significant numbers of people and all that comes with it, will be disastrous.
Areas of high population density, such as detention facilities and displacement and refugee settlements, are particularly vulnerable.
“The spread of acute water diarrhea and cholera is just the tip of the iceberg. For years now the ICRC has been working to prevent critical infrastructure that is too big to fail from a collapse that would force millions into crisis,” Mr Carboni said. “We will continue to encourage all those who are able to support stabilizing these infrastructure facilities to do so. This is a humanitarian imperative, and it will help prevent an already dire situation from becoming even worse.”
Cholera is a water-borne disease that can spread rapidly in densely populated areas with deteriorated hygiene and poor sanitation conditions. ICRC supports water utilities, health authorities and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Lebanese Red Cross to counter the alarming spread of acute watery diarrhea and cholera. The ICRC, along with partners, is providing an emergency response and is also working to ensure access to essential services by extending support to local services providers for operation and maintenance, repairs, and capacity building that extends to water, medical and detention facilities.
In Lebanon, the ICRC is helping with:
- Rehabilitation and/or emergency operation of water supply and treatment systems in the most-affected areas, including emergency fuel supply.
- Support to water utilities with provision of items required for water testing countrywide
- Supporting the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) response, including water purification tablets and hygiene kits for 2,700 households.
- In both Rafiq Hariri University Hospital and Tripoli Governmental Hospitals, providing support to establish standard procedures on infection control, waste management, patient flows and protocols for cases management. ICRC will deliver one cholera kit to each of the two hospitals including infusion treatment, IV treatment, plastic sheeting, pulverization insecticide, and chlorine, enough to treat. Each kit is enough to treat 500 cholera patients.
- Support to detaining authorities including rehabilitation of the water supply system in Roumieh Central Prison, serving about 4,000 detainees; and coordination to support LRC’s cholera vaccination in places of detention.
In Syria, the ICRC is helping with:
- Medical items provided and being delivered to seven hospitals in Aleppo, Deir Ez-Zor, Raqqa, Hama, Qameshli, and the ICRC and Syrian Arab Crescent (SARC) hospital in Al Hol camp in northeast Syria.
- Rehabilitation of water supply systems in the main cities Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and Hama.
- Support to water utilities with water treatment and urgently required spare parts.
- Support to healthcare service providers for infection prevention and control.
- Support to detaining authorities with medical and hygiene items in eight main detention facilities.
- Technical and material support to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), with printing of 20,000 posters and 200,000 leaflets for community awareness sessions.