Cholera is killing thousands of people in Haiti and Nigeria as I type these words. Like most infectious diseases, it hits hardest at the young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. Unlike many such illnesses, it is pathetically simple to avoid contracting: have a clean source of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
In the Western world, we generally take the availability of clean water sources for granted. It’s a given that the water that comes out of your taps isn’t harboring dangerous fecal-oral pathogens. It’s only when the taps are shut off or unreliable as the result of a disaster that we really begin to appreciate what a precious commodity water really is.
Cholera is caused by Vibrio cholerae, a bacterium found in the environment that propagates when it finds a suitable host and is shed in the feces of the infected. If the only available source of water happens to be near where or indeed the same area where people use the bathroom, an epidemic is likely if not inevitable. It’s a pretty unpleasant way to perish, essentially death by dehydration.
For as much as we have as a species in the way of resources, it is inexcusable that there are so many people on this planet lacking in basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clean water.