The surge is surging, refugees are being evicted returning from Syria and elsewhere, and President Bush has his permanent bases for as long as he wants them. Put on a happy face because all is right with the Iraqi world (nevermind those cowardly reporters who refuse to go anywhere in Baghdad without military protection). It’s all just fine and dandy over in the central front on the War on Terror, except for this itsy-bitsy concern about a cholera epidemic.

Baghdad is facing a ‘catastrophe’ with cases of cholera rising sharply in the past three weeks to more than 100, strengthening fears that poor sanitation and the imminent rainy season could create an epidemic.

The disease – spread by bacteria in contaminated water, which can result in rapid dehydration and death – threatens to blunt growing optimism in the Iraqi capital after a recent downturn in violence. Two boys in an orphanage have died and six other children were diagnosed with the disease, according to the Iraqi government. ‘We have a catastrophe in Baghdad,’ an official said.

Seventy percent (70%) of Iraqis have no access to clean water to drink, to cook or to bathe in. This is over four years after we “liberated” the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein. Four years, and this is what our occupation has brought them. The four horseman of the apocalypse. Death, disease, famine and endless war. Neighbor killing neighbor. Vastly degraded and at times literally dangerous medical care. Sewer water to drink. Yet we count it a success that violence has lessened to levels that were considered too high in 2006.

Something is wrong with our media, with our political system and with ourselves that we can allow our government to take a country apart like this, bring it to ruination, and claim that we have accomplished a greater good merely because a semi-competent, if malicious and brutal, dictator has been replaced with chaos, war, malnutrition and death – from violence, disease and starvation.

Cholera is a disease that most of us have never known, never seen. We eradicated it in the US through the practice of better sanitation, waste removal and water treatment. Cholera wasn’t a disease many Iraqis had known either, at least until we invaded. Now it threatens to kill more people than the ongoing civil war. Of course, these deaths won’t be the result of insurgents or terrorists or militias or death squads so I suppose they won’t count, or be counted for that matter. But they are as much the result of this war as any of those who are killed by bombs or bullets.

As Iraq’s rainy season nears, its ageing water pipes and sewerage systems, many damaged or destroyed by more than four years of war, pose a new threat to a population weary of crisis. Claire Hajaj, a spokeswoman for Unicef, said: ‘Iraq’s water and sanitation networks are in a critical condition. Pollution of waterways by raw sewage is perhaps the greatest environmental and public health hazard facing Iraqis – particularly children. Waterborne diarrhoea diseases kill and sicken more Iraqi children than anything except pneumonia. We estimate that only one in three Iraqi children can rely on a safe water source – with Baghdad and southern cities most affected.’

Although US forces in Baghdad have found that security is improving, on daily patrols they face complaints from residents about streets plagued by piles of household waste and fetid cesspools, often near schools and where children are playing. Captain Richard Dos Santos, attached to the 3rd squadron of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, said that in the al-Hadar area of south Baghdad sewage pumps were only 30 to 40 per cent operational. ‘There is sewage near schools and there is an increased threat of cholera and flu in winter when resistance is low,’ he said.

I can’t imagine my children living amid filth and disease ridden raw sewage, risking death with every drink of polluted water they drink, with every infection they incur, with every step they take outside their doors. If this is a success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.

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