Iraq's Cholera Outbreak: A New Surge in a Failed War (Rep. Jim McDermott)

The World Health Organization (WHO) first sounded the alarm in August and, as a medical doctor, let me say the news is troubling:  A serious and deadly outbreak of cholera has been confirmed in half of Iraq’s 18 provinces so far.  WHO is leading efforts to fight the disease.

To date, 15 Iraqis have died from cholera, over 3,300 Iraqis are infected, and another 31,000 Iraqis have fallen ill with cholera-like symptoms.  In addition, WHO has confirmed a handful of cholera cases across the border in Iran, and WHO has expressed concerns about cholera outbreaks in neighboring countries that have large concentrations of Iraqi civilian refugees.  Millions of Iraqi civilians have been forced from their homes and country since the beginning of the war, and many are crowded into difficult living conditions in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere today.

Cholera is a surge the President is not talking about in Iraq, and the innocent victims of this war-related outbreak are (more) un-counted casualties of the Iraq war.  500 cases of cholera were confirmed in Kirkuk Province, in northern Iraq just in the last week.

As a doctor, let me briefly explain that cholera is a bacterial infection caused by the contamination of a water supply from human fecal waste.  Cholera causes severe diarrhea and vomiting in those infected.  Cholera is terribly painful and, as we have seen in Iraq, the illness can be fatal.  What’s especially aggravating is that this did not have to happen: Preventing cholera is as straight forward as providing clean water.  Iraq’s sewage treatment plants did just that pre-war, but they have not been repaired post-invasion, and now cholera is harming and in some cases killing innocent Iraqi people.

To their credit, WHO is trying to fight cholera by procuring millions of water purification tablets in an effort to stop the spread of this disease, but the real solution is having (again) the public infrastructure to reliably provide the Iraqi people with clean and safe drinking water.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

As if we needed more evidence that the Iraq war is a failure, we now have to add the scourge of cholera to the long list of reasons why we should end our occupation of the country.  Instead of talking about the surge, the President ought to be talking about the scourge of cholera.