‘Drink it anyway’: Syria water woes peak in cholera outbreak

A young man suffering from cholera receives treatment at the Al-Kasrah hospital in Syria's eastern province of Deir Ezzor, on 17, 2022, affected by the usage of contaminated water from the Euphrates River, a major source for both drinking and irrigation. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 22 September 2022

‘Drink it anyway’: Syria water woes peak in cholera outbreak

  • Cholera is generally contracted from contaminated food or water and spreads in residential areas that lack proper sewerage networks or mains drinking water

AL-KASRAH, Syria: In a Syrian hospital crowded with women and wailing children, Ahmad Al-Mohammed writhed in pain beside his wife after they contracted cholera, which is resurging for the first time in years.

During his six days in treatment, Mohammed has watched patients stream into the Al-Kasrah Hospital in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where the highly polluted Euphrates River is a major source of contaminated water used for both drinking and irrigation.

“We have suffered from diarhea, vomiting and pain ...  because we drink directly from the Euphrates River,” the 45-year-old said from the hospital, barely able to speak.

“The waters of the Euphrates are polluted but we have no other choice.”

Cholera is generally contracted from contaminated food or water and spreads in residential areas that lack proper sewerage networks or mains drinking water.

The disease is making its first major comeback since 2009 in Syria, where nearly two-thirds of water treatment plants, half of pumping stations and one-third of water towers have been damaged by more than a decade of war, according to the UN.

The Syrian regime has announced 23 deaths and more than 250 cholera cases across six of the country’s 14 provinces since the start of the outbreak in September, with most cases concentrated in the northern province of Aleppo.

The semi-autonomous Kurdish administration that runs northeast Syria and parts of Deir Ezzor has recorded 16 deaths and 78 cases in areas under its control, including 43 cases in western Deir Ezzor, health official Juan Mustafa said on Wednesday.

He said water testing of the Euphrates proved the presence of bacteria responsible for cholera — a spread he said was caused by reduced water flow.

The Euphrates runs for almost 2,800 km across Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

In times of rain, it has offered abundant supplies, gushing into northern Syria through the Turkish border and flowing diagonally across the war-torn country towards Iraq.

But drought and rising temperatures linked to climate change have severely diminished water levels, with the Euphrates experiencing historic lows.

Syria’s Kurds have also accused Turkey of holding back more water than necessary in its dams.

The reduced water flow has compounded the problem of river pollution, largely from sewage, but also from oil in hydrocarbon-rich regions, including Deir Ezzor.

Despite the contamination, over five million of Syria’s about 18 million people rely on the Euphrates for their drinking water, according to the UN.

The cost of this reliance was visible in Al-Kasrah hospital, where a man softly cradled his infant, an intravenous tube piercing the child’s tiny hand. environment

Hospital director Tarek Alaeddine said the facility admits dozens of suspected cholera cases every day and has tallied hundreds of cases over the past three weeks.

“The patients were all drinking water delivered by trucks that extract it directly from the Euphrates River, without filtering or sterilization,” Alaeddine said.

“We appeal to all international organisations working on health and the to act quickly and urgently,” he said.

The Britain-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said early this month that the disease had spread in western parts of Deir Ezzor after local authorities stopped distributing chlorine to water pumping stations.

The Kurdish administration, which controls parts of Deir Ezzor including Al-Kasrah, said they have resumed distribution following the outbreak.

They also announced assistance to Al-Kasrah and other medical facilities in the region to help contain the number of cases.

But the main source of the problem remains largely unresolved.

Farmer Ahmad Suleiman Al-Rashid, 55, said he irrigated his fields of cotton, okra, spinach and sesame using water from the Euphrates, which caused contamination of crops.

“There are no water filtering stations ... we drink unsterilized and unchlorinated water and rely on God for protection,” he said

“What else can we do? The authorities are to blame.”

As he spoke, a rusty truck pumped water from the murky, green Euphrates.

Meanwhile, irrigation pipelines sucked water out of the river, leaking what appeared to be oil onto the land.

“We know the water is polluted... but we drink it anyway,” Rashid said. “We have no other option.”

Nearby, a young boy splashed river water on his face to cool down in the summer heat while Sobha Hamid Ali, 60, sat in the shade cleaning spinach leaves.

She too is aware of the dangers but said there is little she can do.

“We are forced to eat contaminated vegetables,” Ali said in a soft voice. “We must live after all.”

Iran celebrities warned against inciting Mahsa Amini protests

Updated 29 September 2022

Iran celebrities warned against inciting Mahsa Amini protests

  • A number of Iranian sportsmen as well as actors and filmmakers have put their support behind the movement
  • Iran’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei has criticized celebrities over their actions

TEHRAN: Iranian celebrities were warned Thursday against coming out in support of protests that flared across the country over the death of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody.
A wave of unrest has rocked Iran since the 22-year-old died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for reportedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people — mostly protesters but also members of the security forces — and hundreds of arrests.
“We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots,” Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said, quoted by ISNA news agency.
A number of Iranian sportsmen as well as actors and filmmakers have put their support behind the movement, asking authorities to listen to the people’s demands.
Iran’s two-time Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi on Sunday urged people around the world to “stand in solidarity” with the protesters.
“They are looking for simple yet fundamental rights that the state has denied them for years,” Farhadi said, in a video message on Instagram.
At a football match against Senegal in Vienna on Tuesday, the entire Iranian team remained dressed in black during the anthems rather than exposing the national strip.
In an Instagram post, star forward Sardar Azmoun condemned the authorities and appeared to complain of a gag order against the team, before retracting his statement.
Another former prominent player, Ali Karimi, has repeatedly supported the protests and condemned Amini’s death on Instagram and Twitter, saying not even holy water could “wash away this disgrace.”
Iran’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei has criticized celebrities over their actions.
“Those who became famous thanks to support from the system have joined the enemy when times were difficult, instead of being with the people,” said Ejei.
“All of them should know that they have to pay back the material and spiritual damage caused to the people and the country,” he added.


Lebanese parliament fails to elect new head of state

Updated 29 September 2022

Lebanese parliament fails to elect new head of state

  • Michel Aoun’s mandate runs out at the end of October
  • No candidate has emerged as a front-runner among the hopefuls

BEIRUT: The Lebanese parliament failed to elect a new head of state on Thursday to replace President Michel Aoun when his term ends on Oct. 31, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he would call another session when consensus emerged on a candidate.

The bulk of votes cast by lawmakers at Thursday’s session — 63 — were blank. Christian politician Michel Moawad won the backing of 36 of 122 lawmakers who attended.

Unless consensus emerges on a candidate, the presidency looks set to fall vacant when Aoun’s term ends, at a time of deep financial crisis.

Reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon’s sectarian system, the presidency has fallen vacant several times since the 1975-90 civil war.

Anticipating a presidential vacuum, politicians have stepped up efforts to agree a new cabinet led by the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Najib Mikati — who is currently serving in a caretaker capacity — to which presidential powers could pass until a president can be agreed.

Rockets hit central Baghdad for second day in escalating unrest

Updated 29 September 2022

Rockets hit central Baghdad for second day in escalating unrest

  • A similar attack on Wednesday wounded seven members of the Iraqi security forces in the Green Zone

BAGHDAD: Four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad on Thursday landed around the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, home to government buildings and foreign missions, police said, as political unrest intensified.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the strikes and no claim of responsibility, two police officers said. A number of Shiite Muslim militant groups have offices and supporters in eastern Baghdad.
A similar attack on Wednesday wounded seven members of the Iraqi security forces in the Green Zone, and appeared to add a new dimension to a contest among power-hungry politicians.
Rocket attacks on the Green Zone have been regular in recent years but they are normally directed at Western targets by Iran-backed militia groups.
Those attacks have been rare in recent months. Wednesday’s attack took place as parliament was holding a vote to confirm its speaker.
The political crisis has left Iraq without a government for nearly a year after elections last October.
The crisis broadly pits the powerful populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, a political, religious and militia leader, against an array of mostly Iran-aligned political and militant groups.
Sadr, the biggest winner of the election, withdrew all his lawmakers from parliament in June and has sworn not to let parliament convene, fearing other parties will form a government without him.
The standoff spiralled into street clashes killing dozens of people in central Baghdad in August. Many Iraqis fear the same could happen again.

Imprisoned Palestinian-French human rights lawyer begins hunger strike

Updated 28 September 2022

Imprisoned Palestinian-French human rights lawyer begins hunger strike

  • Salah Hamouri is protesting against his detention, which is based on evidence he is not allowed to see and has been extended until at least December
  • Israeli authorities transferred Hamouri to a maximum-security prison in July after he wrote a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron asking for help

LONDON: Palestinian-French human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri, who has been imprisoned without charge by Israeli authorities for six months, has gone on hunger strike in protest.

Hamouri was arrested on March 7 at his home in East Jerusalem. No charges have been filed against him but his detention order has been extended until at least early December based on undisclosed evidence, The Guardian reported.

A member of the #JusticeforSalah campaign told the newspaper that negotiations with Israeli authorities on Wednesday for the lawyer’s release were unsuccessful.

Hamouri, along with 29 other detainees in Israeli prisons, reportedly began an indefinite hunger strike on Sunday to protest against administrative detention. This is an Israeli practice, commonly used against Palestinians who are subject to the military justice system rather than civil justice, under which suspects can be detained for renewable six-month terms without charge or any access to the evidence against them, on the grounds that they might break the law in future in released.

Israeli authorities say the practice is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and protect sensitive intelligence sources. However, human rights campaigners argue that Israeli authorities use it excessively and it violates the right of suspects to due process

Israel is currently holding 743 administrative detainees, the highest number since 2008, according to Israeli human rights group HaMoked.

In July, 37-year-old Hamouri was transferred to a maximum-security prison called Hadarim, where he was placed in a tiny isolation cell. It came after he wrote a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron asking for the help of the French government, according to #JusticeforSalah.

His wife, French national Elsa Lefort, and their two children, who live in France, have been prevented from visiting or even speaking to Hamouri on the telephone since his arrest.

Hamouri has been imprisoned by Israel a number of times, including a seven-year sentence between 2005 and 2011 for his alleged role in an assassination plot against a chief rabbi.

While he maintained his innocence throughout three years of pretrial detention, he eventually accepted a plea bargain to avoid a 14-year jail sentence or deportation to France, which would have probably have resulted in him losing his Israeli-issued right to residency in Jerusalem.

In 2016, Lefort, who was pregnant at the time, was deported after arriving at Tel Aviv’s airport and barred from entering Israel for 10 years.

Hammouri’s Jerusalem residency rights were revoked in October 2021. The reason given was a “breach of allegiance” to the Israeli state, based on undisclosed evidence. This was a legal first, according to the Guardian. The residency case is due to be heard again in February next year.

“Salah has never stopped being vocal about the occupation. He is always speaking at events in France and tours, talking about the conditions of political prisoners and other violations,” a spokesperson for #JusticeforSalah told the Guardian.

“Treating him like this is a way to try and silence him, to break him, and send a message to other human rights defenders.”

In recent years, several Palestinians have gone on long-term hunger strikes to protest against their administrative detention. In most cases, Israel eventually released them after their health deteriorated significantly.

The most recent high-profile Palestinian hunger striker was Khalil Awawdeh, who was at risk of dying and suffered neurological damage as a result of a near-six-month hunger strike. He ended his protest in August after Israel agreed to release him when his current administrative detention order expires.

Protest-hit Iran launches strikes that kill 9 in Iraqi Kurdistan

Updated 29 September 2022

Protest-hit Iran launches strikes that kill 9 in Iraqi Kurdistan

  • A barrage of missiles and drones on Wednesday claimed nine lives and wounded 32
  • Iraq’s federal government called in the Iranian ambassador to protest the deadly strikes

ZARGWEZ, Iraq: Iran launched cross-border missile and drone strikes that killed nine people in Iraq’s Kurdistan region Wednesday after accusing Kurdish armed groups based there of stoking a wave of unrest that has rocked the Islamic republic.
The September 16 death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, while in the custody of Iran’s morality police has sparked a major wave of protests and a crackdown that has left scores of demonstrators dead over the past 12 nights.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has in recent days accused the Iraq-based Kurdish groups of “attacking and infiltrating Iran from the northwest of the country to sow insecurity and riots and spread unrest.”
After several earlier Iranian cross-border attacks that caused no casualties, a barrage of missiles and drones on Wednesday claimed nine lives and wounded 32, said the regional health minister in Irbil, Saman Al-Barazanji, while visiting the wounded in a hospital in the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.
“There are civilians among the victims,” including one of those killed, a senior official of the Kurdistan region earlier told AFP.
An AFP correspondent reported smoke billowing from locations hit, ambulances racing to the scene and residents fleeing, at Zargwez, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from Sulaimaniyah.
In Baghdad, Iraq’s federal government called in the Iranian ambassador to protest the deadly strikes, while the UN mission in Iraq deplored the attack, saying “rocket diplomacy is a reckless act with devastating consequences.”
“These attacks need to cease immediately,” the UN mission said on Twitter.
The United States said it “strongly condemns” Iran’s deadly strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan and warned against further attacks.
“We stand with the people and government of Iraq in the face of these brazen attacks on their sovereignty,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Other Iranian strikes Wednesday destroyed buildings around Zargwez, where several exiled left-wing Iranian Kurdish parties maintain offices.
“The area where we are has been hit by 10 drone strikes,” Atta Nasser, an official from Komala, one exiled Iranian group, told AFP, blaming Iran for the strikes.
“The headquarters of the Kurdistan Freedom Party has been hit by Iranian strikes,” Hussein Yazdan, an official from the party, told AFP, about the site in the Sherawa region, south of Irbil.
Another group, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, said its bases and headquarters in Koysinjaq, east of Irbil, were struck by “missiles and drones.”
“These cowardly attacks are occurring at a time when the terrorist regime of Iran is unable to crack down on ongoing protests inside and silence the Kurdish and Iranian peoples’ civil resistance,” it tweeted.
Amini, 22, died in Tehran on September 16, three days after being arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women that demands they wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.
Her death sparked Iran’s biggest protests in almost three years and a crackdown that has killed at least 76 people, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, or “around 60,” according to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
Protests have rocked especially Kurdish communities in western Iran that share strong connections with Kurdish-inhabited areas of Iraq.
Many Iranian Kurds cross the border into Iraq to find work, due to a biting economic crisis in Iran driven in large part by US sanctions.
Iranian state television had said Sunday about earlier attacks that the “Revolutionary Guards targeted the headquarters of several separatist terrorist groups in northern Iraq with missiles and precision-guided attack drones.”
Two days later the Guards’ General Abbas Nilforoushan, deputy for operations, said “the establishment of a base by the enemies of the Islamic Revolution in this region is not acceptable,” Tasnim news agency reported.
“For some time now, counter-revolutionary elements have been attacking and infiltrating Iran from the northwest of the country to sow insecurity and riots and spread unrest.”
He added that several of “these anti-revolutionary elements were arrested during some riots in the northwest (of Iran), so we had to defend ourselves, react and bomb the surroundings of the border strip.”