The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that there are now 1,410 known cases of cholera in Yemen. On 6 October, Yemen’s Health Ministry announced the cholera outbreak. Caught between war and survival, the people of Yemen face an added threat from this latest development. The WHO has estimated that up to 76,000 people could be affected by this outbreak. The conflict in Yemen has left the health system and medical infrastructure in tatters. Civilians are bombarded by airstrikes, starving and malnourished, and increasingly susceptible to contracting preventable diseases. With an aid blockade currently in place, this latest cholera outbreak will have dire humanitarian consequences for the people of Yemen who desperately need an end to the suffering and devastation of conflict.
Hassan Boucenine, the head of mission in Yemen for Medécins sans Frontières, predicts, “Even if the situation stabilizes now, this is a terrible burden that will go on for years.” The outbreak will exacerbate the current health crisis currently affecting the war-torn country. Children will be especially susceptible to contracting the disease, as at least 1.5 million are malnourished, and 370,000 are experiencing starvation. It is estimated that at least 14 million people have limited or no access to health services, as the United Nations (UN) reports that 600 hospitals and medical centres have been destroyed or closed in the conflict. Dr Ahmed Shadoul, the WHO Representative in Yemen stated: “The current situation is yet another alarming indicator of the escalating humanitarian conflict-related crisis in Yemen and should alert the international community to support Yemen’s public health system and provide health partners with the necessary resources to contain the current transmission and prevent further spread of Vibrio cholerae to other high-risk areas of the country.”
The current international response to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is abysmal. The WHO estimates that there is a 79% funding gap for the humanitarian response in Yemen. Countries need to fill this current aid gap and understand the implications of the Yemeni conflict on the people that experience its devastation. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia must lift its aid blockade on the country. Relief agencies on the ground are unable to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians when Houthi rebels squander the little amount of aid that does come into the country. These actions are the bare minimum that the international community and parties to the conflict should undertake to protect the lives of civilians caught in the crisis. However, the most optimal solution to Yemen’s humanitarian situation is to end the conflict. This will involve high-level negotiations to reconcile parties to the conflict and establish a sustainable path to peace. However, the UN has held numerous peace talks, the latest one held in Kuwait in April. These have consistently failed to materialise into the cessation of violence.
The conflict in Yemen erupted in 2015 when Saudi Arabia led a bombing campaign with the support of a coalition of Arab states against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and loyalists of former president Saleh. Since then, the death toll has risen to at least 10,000 civilians, as Saudi airstrikes continue to wreak devastation on the country. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France have supported Saudi airstrikes.
The future of Yemen remains bleak. The latest cholera outbreak is set to have detrimental consequences for civilians. This humanitarian crisis reflects the damaging toll of conflict on the health system. It is almost certain that the lives of Yemenis have been sacrificed by this political struggle for power. While the conflict continues to wear on, at the utmost minimum, the people of Yemen should be provided the humanitarian attention they so desperately need.
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