Things Have Always Been Terrible

A series in which I make you feel less lonely, realizing how many other pandemics humans have lived through.

Somalian Cholera Epidemic of 1998-2000

Today I chose page 353, and there were two options: the Solomon Islands Polio Epidemic of 1951, and the Somalian Cholera Epidemic of 1998. I went with a new geographic area, Somalia.

I had a student last year who was Somali. With our language barrier, he was a bit stiff and disdainful. It was nice to see him slowly bond with his fellow student from Vietnam, wobbly exchange of word by wobbly exchange of word. They had both lived in multiple different refugee camps before arriving in the U.S.

There are some awesome cave paintings in Somalia that are crazy old, and they look great even today.

Foreign tourists with local guides in the caves of Laas Geel to see paintings
A camel at Laas Geel

In the 15th century BCE, Hatshepsut, a badass female Egyptian pharaoh, went on an expedition to what is now Somalia (then called Punt). Members of her entourage described it as, “Land of the Gods, a region far to the east in the direction of the sunrise, blessed with products for religious purposes.” Egyptians got gold, ivory, ebony, incense, and cinnamon from Somalia.

Men from Punt Carrying Gifts, Tomb of Rekhmireca. 1479–1420 B.C.

In the middle ages, Somalia did pretty well. They did a lot of trading.

In the late 1800s, however, Italians showed up and stole their land from them. Then the British stole what the Italians had already stolen.

In 1991 shit really hit the fan. As you may recall, they had a terrible civil war. It seems to me like God does give people more than they can handle: they had a civil war, then a drought.

In 1998, about 200,000 people would be on the move because they had no food, and others were running from fighting. Many made camp along the Juba River, which carried cholera. And they were thirsty.

In August 1999, the World Health Organization reported 6,964 cases of cholera. The WHO and UNICEF brought chlorinating equipment and trainers. Various helpers from around the world continued to try to support the people of Somalia, and the cholera fatality rates fell around mid-April, 2000.

Many countries haven’t had cholera for 150 years, but it still kills about 130,000 of our neighbors every year.

The good news about cholera is that if we help our neighbors, more people may be vaccinated against cholera (vaccines are safe and cheap) or treated successfully (with IV fluids and antibiotics).


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