'Yet another killer for children left starved by war': cholera grips Yemen

In the last two weeks, 1,000 young people a day have been infected with the disease

Yemen is seeing a sharp spike in the number of suspected cholera cases this year, with 1,000 children a day infected in the last two weeks alone, agencies said.

More than 120,000 cases have been reported, with 234 deaths in the country, which has been at war for four years this month. Almost a third of the 124,493 cases documented between 1 January and 22 March were children under fifteen. Increasing rates of malnutrition among Yemen’s children have left them more prone to contracting and dying from the disease.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the spike, which comes two years after Yemen suffered its worst ever cholera outbreak, was concentrated in six governorates, including in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah and the Sana’a province, which is home to the capital.

Early rains could be to blame for the recent increase in suspected cases of the disease, according to Unocha.

“The situation is exacerbated by poor maintenance of sewage disposal systems in many of the affected districts, the use of contaminated water for irrigations, and population movements,” the office said.

In the last two weeks alone, there have been 40,000 new cases, an increase of 150% over the previous month.

Save the Children described the worsening situation for Yemen’s children as “alarming”.

Tamer Kirolos, the organisation’s country director, said: “A massive outbreak will be yet another killer for children left starved and weakened by four years of war. The tragedy is cholera can be easily prevented with access to clean water and basic hygiene. But that’s where we are right now. Yemen’s sewage system, which was already lacking before the conflict, is now almost non-existent. There’s an increasing number of people forced to camp out in unsanitary conditions simply to escape the fighting.

“All parties to this conflict, and those supporting them, must take the only responsible action which is to urgently reach a peaceful resolution. Yemen’s children cannot be made to wait while war and deadly disease rage around them.”

Salem Jaffer Baobaid, project leader for Islamic Relief, based in Hodeidah, said that he was worried about new cases, amid an ever-worsening situation for civilians.

“Clean water is not well organised for the population and there are a lot of challenges – a lack of electricity and lack of fuel, and treatment centres are over-crowded.

“Bear in mind we are heading to a hot summer season, where diseases are spread more easily,” he said.

The waterborne disease is endemic in Yemen. The worst outbreak of the disease in the country was in 2017, when more than a million cases were reported and 2,500 people died of the infection between April and December. Only half of the country’s 3,500 medical facilities are fully functioning, and almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare. About 18 million do not have access to clean water or sanitation.

Baobaid said one of Islamic Relief’s staff contracted cholera last week and was moved to Sana’a because of the deteriorating conditions in the port city. He said he had heard that one humanitarian partner was planning to support a new aid and diarrhoea treatment centre but had no further details.

He said residents were also becoming worried about the ceasefire in Hodeidah after Sunday night, when heavy bombardment went on for four or five hours.

“Everyone in the city is talking about what happened. People were expecting it to be better, so they are concerned.”

The UN also says more than 10,000 families were newly displaced after fighting ravaged Hajjah province in the north.

A ceasefire was agreed between Houthis and the government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi at UN-sponsored talks in December.

A coalition of Saudis and the UAE, supported by US and UK arms, have been fighting against a Houthi-led insurgency that has seized control of Sana’a, the port of Hodeidah and large parts of the north of the country.

Yemen’s economic situation continues to disintegrate due to the ongoing conflict. GDP has contracted by an estimated 39% since 2014.


Karen McVeigh

The GuardianTramp

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