Contamination of the Artibonite River with human waste is the probable source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti. As of Sunday afternoon there have been at least 250 deaths. Cholera is a quick killer and difficult to contain. (Read more from the BBC.)
This is the first time in nearly a century that cholera has presented in Haiti. As a result human hosts are unlikely to have much immunity and the death rate could be much higher than in areas where cholera is more common. Cholera has been absent from the Caribbean since about 1960.
The cholera epidemic is likely to worsen in the days ahead. Major media will be covering. For more detailed information the Pan American Health Organization is posting updates at http://new.paho.org/hai/index.php?lang=en
(Monday Upate: This morning the BBC is reporting, “Health officials have said there are signs that the cholera outbreak in central Haiti may be stabilising. Although the death toll moved past 250 with more than 3,000 people infected, fewer cases were reported.”)
The risk of cholera has been recognized since the January earthquake in Haiti. A CDC Pre-Decision Brief on cholera is interesting to review nearly eight months on. See CDC brief at: http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/haiti/waterydiarrhea_pre-decision_brief.asp
Field reports and requests for assistance are focusing on oral rehydration salts, clean water, soap, and water filtration devices, IV solutions (normal saline mostly), tubing and catheters, antibiotics: doxycycline, cipro, and trimethoprim/sulfa (cotrimoxazole). Some resources have been predeployed.
On the same day that the cholera outbreak in Haiti was first being reported an advocacy group released a study pointing to serious problems ahead for US water systems.
The Ripple Effect: Water Risk in the Municipal Bond Market assesses the risk of water scarcity for public water and power utilities in some of the country’s most water-stressed regions. From the report:
Water is a linchpin of the U.S. economy, but its availability is being tested like never before. More extreme droughts, surging water demand, pollution, and climate change are growing risks that threaten water supplies in many parts of the United States. In some regions, water scarcity is already crimping economic production and sparking interstate legal battles. The stresses are especially severe in regions experiencing rapid population and economic growth, including the West, Southwest and Southeast. Among the most immediate threats:The City of Atlanta’s water supply could be cut by nearly 40 percent as early as 2012 due to the ruling of a federal judge;Lake Mead, the vast reservoir for the Colorado River, is quickly approaching a firstever water shortage declaration that would reduce deliveries to fast-growing Arizona and Nevada;
Hoover Dam, which provides hydropower to major urban centers in California, Arizona, and Nevada, may stop generating electricity as soon as 2013 if water levels in Lake Mead don’t begin to recover.
More regular droughts and heat waves are likely to increase the operating costs of power generators in the Southeast, among them the Tennessee Valley Authority,which was forced to slash power generation for two weeks at three of its facilities in Alabama and Tennessee because of heightened water temperatures, costing the utility an estimated $10 million in lost power production.
The water-related risk in Haiti is acute and life-threatening. The water-related risk being reported in the United States is more a matter of managing an emerging chronic condition. Other than water what they share is the challenge involved in working effectively to manage even known risks.