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I've watched the video Sonaar Luthra: Meet the Water Canary on this website of TED. Some points in the first paragraph of his speech make me confused.

Cholera was reported in Haiti for the first time in over 50 years last October. There was no way to predict how far it would spread through water supplies and how bad the situation would get. And not knowing where help was needed always ensured that help was in short supply in the areas that needed it most.

  1. What is the relationship between Cholera and water supplies? (I just don't know how scientists can predict Cholera through water supplies!)
  2. I guess 'help was in short supply' means we provided little help to the areas that needed help most. However, I still don't understand the last sentence. Would you explain it in the other ways?

Thanks.

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    1. Don't know if this question belongs here! ..... 2. Last line is saying that since there was no way to find out where the help was needed (where the cholera was spreading), it ensured that the areas which were in dire need of help were mostly left in cold and there were little or no "help efforts" there to curb its spread. – Mohit Mar 22 '13 at 3:37
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Through water supplies modifies spread, not predict: that is:

a. Cholera would spread through water supplies, but
b. how far it would spread could not be predicted.

In short supply means that the supply, the amount available, was insufficient. Thus:

a. Because it was not known where help was needed,
b. insufficient help was available in the areas which needed it most.

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What is the relationship between Cholera and water supplies?

As noted in wikipedia, “Transmission [of cholera] is primarily by the fecal contamination of food and water caused by poor sanitation.” People drinking contaminated water is an important cause of spread of cholera.

I just don't know how scientists can predict Cholera through water supplies!

Neither of the sentences you quoted are worded as well as they should be. While it is clear that “There was no way to predict how far it would spread through water supplies” is not about “predicting Cholera through water supplies”, it is not clear precisely what meaning was intended. The sentence can be interpreted several ways with several different meanings:

It could not be predicted how far cholera bacteria would travel in the water supplies –or– It was infeasible to predict how far cholera bacteria (which were in water supplies) would spread –or– It was not known that cholera bacteria would spread as far as they did in the water supplies of Haiti.

Details aside, the sentence claims it was not predictable how far cholera would spread.

I guess “help was in short supply” means we provided little help to the areas that needed help most. However, I still don't understand the last sentence.

You've correctly interpreted the “help was in short supply” part of the sentence. The earlier part, “And not knowing where help was needed always ensured that...” perhaps exaggerates for effect. It expresses a logical fallacy by misuse of always (“At all times”) and ensure (“To make sure or certain of something”). Certainly, lack of knowledge of needs typically leads to some misallocation of resources, but does not actually do anything to make sure that areas in need of extra resources never get them.

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