A CHOLERA epidemic in the African nation of Angola is in its fourth month, with a death toll now estimated at 1,300, while an inattentive world goes about its business.
The initial world reaction to the epidemic, with some 35,000 Angolans infected, is that it is tragic. Well, yes, but what about helping?
Cholera is a thoroughly preventable disease, if public sanitation is adequate and supplies of clean water are available. So it's logical to assume that Angola must be a poor country.
But it isn't. Instead, it is a country with substantial resources that include oil and diamonds and has a relatively small population of 12 million. Its oil, mostly offshore, is marketed by western companies such as Chevron-Texaco, ExxonMobil, BP-Amoco, and others. It earned Angola $23 billion a year even before world oil prices began to soar.
Angola's excuse for widespread, abysmal levels of poverty among most of its population used to be civil war. A bewildering array of organizations used to duke it out inside Angola, backed variously by the United States, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and apartheid-era South Africa. But that ended four years ago with a peace treaty.
Now the only obstacle to Angola using its oil and diamond receipts to take action against cholera is the entrenched, corrupt ruling group. Angola's president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 63, has been in power for 26 years.
His party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, is dominated by a mixed-race minority that shovels the country's income into European and other banks, taking care to spend enough on Angola's military to keep itself in power.
So the Angolan cholera epidemic presents the world with a problem. The suffering of ordinary Angolans would be eased if the country's greedy, irresponsible rulers used the nation's wealth to provide clean water, adequate sanitation, and accessible health facilities.
The Bush Administration loves Angola because it is an oil producer and has made it a candidate for access to the Millennium Challenge Account, assistance that is available theoretically only to countries on the road to reform.
So the absurdity and the suffering of the Angolan cholera epidemic continue, for the most part unnoticed by the world. Even the United States stands by, doing nothing.