Local officials have warned that Mariupol, the Ukrainian city that was relentlessly bombed and besieged by Russian forces for months, could now be facing a deadly cholera outbreak.
An adviser to the occupied port city mayor said on Tuesday that its drinking water had been contaminated by decomposing garbage and corpses, increasing the risk of a cholera outbreak.
Petro Andryushchenko said on Ukrainian television that the word cholera is not only coming from us now, but inside the city.
He said that city officials had received information that a Russian city across the border was preparing infectious disease units in case of a cholera outbreak that could affect Russian troops in Mariupol. He said that this threat is not only recognized by the World Health Organization and us, but the occupants as well.
In a TV interview Tuesday, Andryushchenko said Russian authorities controlling Mariupol were effectively shutting down the city and introducing a self-imposed quarantine.
He said that the situation is quite dangerous and that he hopes the Russians would allow epidemiological experts, whether Ukrainian or international, into the city to help control the situation there.
They came after Mariupol s city council warned last week that the port on the Azov Sea was on the verge of a spike in infectious diseases. The city was literally drowning in garbage and sewage this week, as its central water supply and sewage systems were down, according to the city's central water supply and sewage systems. The summer heat has caused thousands of corpses to be buried under the rubble, adding to the problem, it said.
The council quoted Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko as saying that tens of thousands of people in the city could die from dysentery and cholera.
Cholera is an acute disease that can kill within a few hours if left untreated, according to the WHO. It is critical to prevent and control the transmission of safe water and sanitation.
The WHO warned last month about the threat of infectious disease outbreaks in Mariupol, citing information from nongovernmental organizations that the city s sewage water and drinking water were getting mixed, creating a huge hazard for many infections, including cholera. Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesman, said in an email Tuesday that there was a high risk of a cholera outbreak in Mariupol.
We can't confirm whether or not there is a current outbreak in the absence of a systematic epidemiological investigation and laboratory testing PCR confirmation. Harris said that accessing Mariupol is difficult and that the WHO is looking for opportunities to do so through its partners on the ground.
Mariupol residents suffered months of heavy bombardment amid a Russian siege that left them with little food, water, electricity or medicine, raising fears of a humanitarian catastrophe. Russia took full control of the city last month after the last pocket of Ukrainian defenders surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant.
Ukrainian officials estimate that more than 20,000 people have died in the city.
Many of them had to be buried in backyards or in mass graves due to heavy shelling. Ukrainian officials fear that others may have been trapped in the rubble of destroyed buildings, with their bodies not retrieved.
90 percent of Mariupol's infrastructure has been destroyed, according to city officials.