A statement recently published by UNICEF on the 2nd of June has reported that there have been almost 600 deaths caused by an outbreak of Cholera in Yemen. The most recent report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that the death toll has risen to 681 in just four days. The ongoing conflict between the Saudi-Arabian led coalition and the Houthi rebel forces have been the catalyst for the approximate 70, 000 cases of this disease that have been reported in just the past month.
An outbreak of this nature has been regarded as “unprecedented” by the United Nations. Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, recently stated that “Two years of war have plunged the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and put Yemen at risk of famine. Now it is at the mercy of a deadly and rapidly spreading cholera epidemic.” He went on to say that while cholera is an easily curable disease, the difficulty of the process is compounded by the surrounding conflict in Yemen. Nevio Zagaria, the head of mission for WHO in Yemen, has noted that one of the most significant obstacles faced by aid workers is a lack of international aid. He states, “we lack medicines and medical supplies, we do not have enough doctors and nurses. We don’t even have a place to wash our hands.”
It is clear that the tragedy of this situation is not one that has risen out of a disease that is incurable, rather it was due to the lack of proper treatment. As Zagaria stated, there is a severe strain on resources and the aid of NGOs has become critically important. However, Save the Children have released statements that Saudi Arabia has been delaying the shipment of aid for months. While the assistance of organisations such as Save the Children and Amnesty International are much needed, the root of the issue stems from civil unrest.
The ongoing war between the Saudi-Arabian led coalition and the Houthi’s has had significant and detrimental impacts on the civilians of Yemen. This conflict originated around 2011 with the failed transition of leadership from Ali Abdullah Saleh to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Many Yemenis felt disillusioned during this process and mobilized to form the rebel force known today at the Houthi’s. As BBC World News reports, there have been over 7,600 casualties and 42,000 people injured since 2015 as a result of the war. However, this conflict has been the catalyst to a host of other indirect issues as well. Cholera is a disease that breeds waterway says; when there is limited access to clean water this is one of the first diseases that begin to proliferate. As a war rages on, the destruction of essential infrastructure such as hospitals and medical centres pose a significant threat and exacerbate the severity of the inherent consequences of war, like civilian deaths and poverty.
The most obvious and effective solution to confining the spread of cholera would be to put an end to the conflict that has plagued Yemen and its civilians. However, in the current political climate this is neither pragmatic nor realistic. As Sajid has proposed, “the backers of this war in Western and Middle Eastern capitals need to put pressure on parties to the fighting to agree a ceasefire to allow public health and aid workers to get on with the task.” Humanity should always take precedence over politics; a battle of ideologies loses meaning when the civilians a cause purports to fight for are the ones who are bearing the full force of attack.