THE number of people affected by cholera in Yemen is expected to reach one million by the end of the year, the International Red Cross has said.
The scale of the outbreak has been described as “unprecedented” by aid agencies. Already, 750,000 people have been affected, making it the largest outbreak in a single year.
Cholera is preventable and treatable, if caught early; and yet more than 2000 people have so far died of it in Yemen, where there has been fighting for two and a half years. Cholera is now said to have reached 90 per cent of the country.
Tearfund’s Middle East response director, Kieren Barnes, said: “It’s an ongoing and forgotten crisis. It’s the biggest in the world, and we would advocate that this needs to be more highly prioritised globally. Countries need to take responsibility. That comes with funding the humanitarian response, and that comes with ending the conflict and the civilian casualties it’s leading to.”
The country’s sanitation systems are not working, and medical services are at breaking point. Medical staff have not been paid by the government for more than a year.
The UN has called for greater access for aid convoys, and the reopening of the country’s main airport in the capital, Sana’a, for essential deliveries. The director general of the UN International Organization for Migration, William Lacy Swing, said: “The world has an obligation to come to the aid of the Yemeni people.”
Three million Yemeni children under the age of five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, and the country is on the brink of famine, the UN has said. About 80 per cent of the population is now dependent on humanitarian aid.
The civil war broke out in 2015 between forces loyal to the exiled President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is backed by the Saudis, and Houthi rebels (News, 17 April 2015). As many as 10,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in the fighting.
The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to set up an independent investigation into human-rights abuses in Yemen, although attempts by European countries, led by the Netherlands, to have a full-scale UN international commission of inquiry, which could have led to war- crimes trials in the international court, were withdrawn after lobbying by Saudi Arabia.