Cholera Epidemic Rages In War-Torn Yemen

Currently, in the midst of a bloody civil war, Yemen is facing what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls the “world’s worst cholera outbreak.” The WHO predicted up to 300,000 people would be infected by August of this year. That number is expected to increase to an estimated one million cases by November.

Cholera is a highly contagious disease that can kill its victims within hours. It is spread through contaminated food or water. As a result of this horrific war in Yemen, the suspension of public services, such as waste management and food distribution, has perpetuated these dangerous conditions for cholera outbreaks. Furthermore, bombings have destroyed water treatment plants, and garbage litters the streets. Thus, access to basic necessities like clean water is limited, and receiving adequate healthcare is extremely difficult.

Although cholera is an easily treatable disease, more than half of Yemen’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed in the war. Those that remain are difficult for civilians to access, and therefore there is a struggle to manage the growing cholera epidemic in the country.

Oxfam, a global aid and development organization, estimates 5500 new cases of cholera occur each day. Clinics and hospitals that are still in operation lack proper equipment and staff, and are overwhelmed by the number of patients, seeking help, particularly children and the elderly. Al Jazeera reports patients travel hours to reach the nearest hospitals, which is a horrific feat considering cholera can be fatal if left untreated over a longer period of time.

Due to delays in the earning of visas, as well as infrastructure and military barriers that cause trouble moving around the war-torn country, aid workers and cholera specialists attempting to provide assistance for the outbreak are being considerably hindered.

The UN is blaming all sides in the conflict for this perpetuating this epidemic. Senior UN humanitarian affairs official Stephen O’Brien attributes the prolonged cholera outbreak to the war, saying “This is because of conflict. It’s man-made, it’s very severe.”

The conflict was initiated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Since then, the ongoing conflict has resulted in the death of over 5000 civilians. Three million people have been displaced, losing access to clean water, adequate nutrition, and other essential services. These displaced peoples are extremely vulnerable to cholera, and thus the death toll from the disease is expected to further increase in the coming months.

Crowds of Houthis recently gathered in Yemen’s capital Sanaa to mark the third anniversary of their takeover of the city. Houthi fighters are backed by Iran, while Saudi Arabia spearheads a coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states. Oxfam has called for a ceasefire in order to put an end to the epidemic, but the conflict, unfortunately, shows no sign of letting up.

Saudi Arabia’s ministry of culture and information recently announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is donating $66.7 million to help the WHO and UNICEF fight cholera in Yemen. Unfortunately, cholera has contributed to the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Yemen, on top of deaths from the bloody civil war. Therefore, donations and financial support is not enough. In order to curb and eventually stop the spread of the cholera outbreak in Yemen, the war must end in a peaceful manner. This is the only way in which the epidemic to properly be assessed and resolved.

Erika Loggin