Yemen’s ongoing civil war has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and caused millions more to be displaced from their homes since 2015. Amidst this violence, the beleaguered country has struggled with food insecurity and famine. Over the past few months, another crisis has hit Yemen as well: a cholera epidemic.
Since April 2017, almost 180,000 people have been infected with cholera across Yemen, while another 1,310 people have died from infection. As Mohamed El Montassir Hussein, the Yemen country director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told NPR, the entire country has been affected, with cases reported in twenty out of twenty-two provincial governments.
In a recent press release, Oxfam estimated the epidemic has killed one person almost every hour. The crisis is so severe, in fact, that it is set to become one of the worst cholera outbreaks of the century.
Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, warned in early June that cholera cases could reach 300,000 by August if preventive measures were not taken immediately. By comparison, there were 172,000 reported cases of cholera worldwide in 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Cholera, a bacterial disease transmitted through water contaminated by human waste, is relatively easy to remedy, but can cause fatal dehydration if left untreated.
The on-going conflict, which has decimated Yemen’s economy and infrastructure, has facilitated the cholera outbreak, which has turned into a full-blown humanitarian crisis, what UN Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien has called a “man-made catastrophe,” as reported by Reuters.
Both the IRC and the WHO are trying to set up treatment centers, in order to provide medical aid to those suffering from the disease. UNICEF has also stepped in to compensate health care workers and “prevent a ‘complete collapse’ of Yemen’s health care system,” according to NPR.
More robust efforts are still needed, however. Oxfam has called on the international community to take substantial steps to contain the outbreak, asking wealthier nations to deliver on pledges of $1.2 billion made in Geneva this past April.
Notably, one country that has already stepped in to help is Saudi Arabia. On June 23, 2017, Saudi Arabia donated $66.7 million to UNICEF, the WHO, and other charitable organizations, to alleviate the cholera outbreak in Yemen. Sanctioned by the new Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the move is hardly altruistic. As a party to the current conflict in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has had a significant hand in decimating the country’s infrastructure and contributing to the circumstances that helped bring about the outbreak. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has had a singular impact on the war. Before becoming the crown prince, he served as the Kingdom’s defense minister, directing bombings and blockades against Yemen.
The only real way to truly address Yemen’s cholera outbreak is to institute a meaningful ceasefire, which Oxfam has called for. With Saudi Arabia continuing its airstrikes on Yemen, however, this remains an unlikely prospect.