The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported that the cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen has infected 300,000 people in the past 10 weeks and the crisis is “spiral(ing) out of control”, with about 7,000 new cases every day.
More than 1,700 associated deaths have been reported, according to the UN. Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems are collapsing after two years of conflict between pro-government forces and the rebel Houthi movement.
On 24 June, the World Health Organisation declared that Yemen was facing “the worst cholera outbreak in the world.”
Since then, another 100,000 people have been infected – an increase the ICRC’s Middle East regional director Roberto Mardini called “disturbing”. The outbreak has affected all but one of Yemen’s 23 provinces, and the four most affected – Sanaa, Hudaydah, Hajja and Amran – have reported almost half of the cases.
UN agencies said the outbreak is the direct consequence of the civil war, with 14.5 million people cut off from access to clean water and sanitation. More than half of health facilities no longer function, with almost 300 having been damaged or destroyed, and some 30,000 health workers, key to dealing with the outbreak, have not been paid for 10 months.
Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened the health of vulnerable people – above all children under 15 and the elderly – and made them more vulnerable to the disease.
The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen warned that humanitarian organisations had been forced to divert resources away from combating malnutrition to deal with the cholera outbreak, raising the risk of a famine.
“If we don’t get these resources replaced, then using those resources for cholera will mean that food insecurity will suffer,” Jamie McGoldrick said. “We’re trying to do our best, but it’s very much beyond what we can cope with.”