The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there are now more than 680,000 suspected cases of cholera, an increase of 40,000 in just the last week:
In Yemen, the most explosive outbreak on record has caused 686,783 suspected cases and 2,090 deaths since late April. The number of deaths has slowed but the spread of disease has not: in the past week there were 40,000 suspected cases, the most for seven weeks.
Last week, I wrote about the Red Cross’ projection that there could be as many as 850,000 cases of cholera by the end of the year. In that post, I noted that the final figure would likely be much higher because the epidemic is spreading much more quickly than anticipated. Five days later, the number of cases is already closing in on 700,000. If the number of new cases keeps growing like this, there could easily be over a million by the start of 2018.
Yemen’s cholera epidemic was already the worst on record two months ago, and it had become the worst contemporary epidemic of its kind a few weeks before that. In the months that have followed, the spread of the epidemic has not slowed, and it continues to spread more quickly than expected. If the latest report is any indication, the spread of the epidemic is faster than before. While we can be grateful that the number of deaths has so far remained low, that should not make us ignore the vast scale of Yemen’s cholera crisis, especially since it is paired with the world’s worst hunger crisis.
All of this is a man-made crisis, and it has been produced by a war that the Saudi-led coalition needlessly escalated two and a half years ago with Washington’s approval and full support. The U.S. and Britain, among others, have been arming and fueling the coalition war effort, including an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has wreaked havoc on infrastructure and health care facilities, and they have supported the coalition blockade that continues to starve Yemenis and deprive them of basic necessities. Public health disasters of this magnitude don’t simply happen, and that is especially true when the disease is a preventable and easily treatable one. It requires an ongoing, deliberate effort to wreck a poor country, and that is what the Saudis and their allies have been doing for the last thirty months with U.S. backing.