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Cholera epidemic in Yemen now affects 1 million people

December 21, 2017

The war-torn country is experiencing the worst cholera epidemic the world has seen in a decade according to the Red Cross. Yet cholera is not the only problem Yemenis face, they also lack food, water, medicine and fuel.

A child drinking water from a hose in Yemen
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H.Mohammed

Yemen, which was plunged into a brutal civil war in March 2015, has reached another dark milestone. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced Thursday that more than 1 million people in the Arabian Peninsula country are now affected by cholera. In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that almost 2,200 people had already died from the waterborne disease. The problem has been exacerbated by worsening hygiene and sanitation conditions in the country.  

The Red Cross emphasized that cholera is not the only problem plaguing the county's civilian population, adding that 80 percent of Yemenis lack access to food, fuel, clean drinking water and health care. Although the number of cholera cases registered each week has gone down over the last three months, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said, "the epidemic is not yet over, and more concerted efforts should be deployed to ensure its control in the immediate term and the prevention of future outbreaks."

Read more:  War in Yemen: 'The world isn't paying enough attention'

Proxy war hindering aid deliveries 

Yemen is the one of the poorest countries in the Arab world and has been the theater for an ongoing proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which is backing Yemen's government forces and Iran, which is supporting tribal Houthi rebels. The war, which began shortly after Houthi rebels took control of the capital Saana in September of 2014, has continually intensified since it became a full-blown civil war in March 2015. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict began.

Yemen's chaos deepens after death of ex-president – Q&A with Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator

One of the major obstacles to bringing relief to Yemen's civilian population has been Saudi Arabia's reluctance to open ports and airfields allowing humanitarian aid into the country. The international community has insisted that Riyadh allow aid organizations access but it has been loathe to do so, especially after repeated cross-border rocket attacks on the kingdom by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia has justified its lack of willingness to open ports by pointing out that Houthi rebels also use them to bring weapons into the country from Iran. 

Read more:  How did Yemen's Houthis obtain ballistic missiles?

International humanitarian aid

The WHO announced yesterday that it had succeeded in delivering a planeload of supplies to the country, which contained some 70 tons of essential medical and surgical supplies, adding that the cargo would be enough to help 2,000 people. Nevio Zagaria, the WHO's representative to Yemen, said of the delivery: "Together with our partners, we have made tremendous efforts to prevent the collapse of Yemen's health system, but millions of people remain in dire need of critical health services." The ICRC, which has described the situation as the world's largest humanitarian crisis is also appealing to the world for donations to assist them in aid Yemen's civilian population.

js/rc (AFP, dpa)