Cholera re-emerges in Lebanon after three decades
Lebanon declared on the 6th of October a cholera outbreak that is spreading rapidly through the country. It is the first outbreak since 1993.
According to the World Health Organization, Lebanon is the latest country hit in a devastating outbreak that began in Afghanistan in June 2022 and then spread to Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
There are now at least 2,255 suspected and confirmed cholera cases in Lebanon, particularly concentrated in the northern rural area of Akkar (where the first case was detected), in the Bekaa valley and Hermel, as well as in Zahle and some parts of the south. Eighteen people have died.
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection that is typically spread through water and food contaminated by fecal matter due to poor wastewater management and poor hygiene practices. Its spread is therefore closely linked to inadequate access to drinking water and sanitation. It can have serious health consequences, and even cause death if left untreated. Severe diarrhea and severe dehydration are the worst complications of cholera.
Action Against Hunger, a humanitarian organization present in Lebanon since 2006, is working to prevent and contain the spread of the disease in Lebanon. The organization is distributing oral rehydration solutions to treat severe diarrhea and dehydration. A total of 201 units have been given to the affected population.
The organization’s emergency team has been deployed, and household-level water tank cleaning campaigns have been initiated in affected informal settlements. The organization is delivering 35 liters of safe drinking water daily to all people in the informal camps of Aarsal and Deir El Ahmar clusters.
Action Against Hunger is also monitoring water quality in suppliers' trucks and water tanks to make sure levels of chlorine are enough to eliminate any potential risk of contamination.
Action Against Hunger field staff disinfecting affected informal settlements in, Lebanon. © Lubiana Gosp-Server for Action Against Hunger
Desludging trucks are emptying the septic tanks of latrines in all informal camps in Aarsal, Labwe, Qaa, Hermel and Dar el Ahmar and are desludging all pits when there is a confirmed case.
So far, 822 hygiene kits and 788 disinfection kits have been distributed in the affected camps in Aarsal along with cholera awareness and hygiene promotion campaigns reaching over 1.800 people in the Bekaa and in South Lebanon.
Action Against Hunger field working on cholera awareness and hygiene campaign in affected informal settlements in Lebanon. © Lubiana Gosp-Server for Action Against Hunger
Poor access to safe water and sanitation services in Lebanon
Lebanon’s water and sanitation sector never recovered from the destruction caused by a 15-year long civil war, two decades of post-conflict in addition to the multi-layered crisis.
The supply network does not provide enough drinking water for human consumption, forcing a large part of the population to consume untreated and contaminated water.
Wastewater management is also critical to keep waterborne diseases such cholera under control. However, 92% of the wastewater in Lebanon remains untreated and is discharged directly into the environment, posing a serious threat to public health in the country, and increasing the risk of cholera widespread in the territory.
This lack of access to safe water and sanitation services makes informal tent settlements (ITSs) near the Syrian border highly vulnerable to the spread of disease. According to the Emergency Response Coordinator of Action Against Hunger, Iván Álvarez Colomina, working on the ground, "Lebanon is mired in a harsh economic crisis. Water and sanitation systems are not working due to rising energy costs. There are not enough funds to cope as the whole country is suffering the crisis and might be affected."
According to an assessment conducted by the Action Against Hunger team in Lebanon in 493 informal settlements in Baalbek-Hermel, the worst-affected area where more than 19,000 people live, 80% of the households use unsafe water. In addition, 57% are consuming water with fecal contamination, and 20% of settlements reported open defecation due to lack of adequate sanitation.