As if things couldn’t get worse for those living in the besieged nation of Yemen, a cholera outbreak has reportedly killed more than 50 people and spread to thousands more since late April, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on Thursday.
The outbreak was first announced in October 2016 but the recent surge creates a dangerous trifecta of crises. Already facing widespread threats of famine and an ongoing war that has claimed the lives of 4,000 civilians, the Middle Eastern nation has very little infrastructure or capacity to deal with the highly-contagious disease.
As WHO noted in its press statement, “The uptick in cholera cases comes as Yemen’s already weakened health system struggles under the weight of two years of conflict. Key infrastructure, including water and sanitation facilities, are collapsing, contributing to the spread of diarrhoeal disease.”
According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), less than half of Yemen’s medical facilities are currently functional.
“WHO is in full emergency mode to contain the recent upsurge of suspected cholera cases,” said Dr. Nevio Zagaria, WHO representative in Yemen, who noted that 51 have died since April 27 while there is evidence the disease has spread to as many as 2756 people.
Laboratory testing by OCHA confirmed cases of cholera in 10 of the nation’s governorates. WHO estimates that 7.6 million people live in areas at high risk of transmission.
At the same time, Telegraph Middle East correspondent Raf Sanchez reports, “[a]round seven million of the country’s 27 million people are facing ’emergency’ shortages of food, according to the U.N., just one level below all-out famine. Two-thirds of the population does not have access to clean drinking water.” The UN has previously called Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”
And the situation could grow even more dire as the U.S-backed, Saudi Arabia- led coalition is threatening to attack Yemen’s Hodeidah port, despite warnings from the United Nations and U.S. lawmakers that such a move would cut off the nation from essential food and aid and would displace 200,000-500,000 people.