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Yemen’s Worsening Cholera Epidemic

Yemen’s cholera epidemic continues to worsen:

The crises in Africa, however, pale in comparison to the one in Yemen.

Since a severe outbreak began in late April, according to Unicef, cholera has spread to 21 of the country’s 22 provinces, infecting at least 269,608 people and killing at least 1,614. That is more than the total number of cholera deaths reported to the World Health Organization worldwide in 2015.

The epidemic has spread so quickly because of destroyed infrastructure, a devastated health care system, collapsing public services, lack of access to clean drinking water, and widespread malnutrition. All of these things have been brought on in large part by the actions of Saudi-led coalition and the “legitimate” Hadi government. The bombing campaign has wrecked roads, bridges, and ports, damaged water treatment plants, and destroyed or damaged many hospitals and clinics. The coalition blockade has deprived the civilian population of sufficient food and medicine. What food that does make it into the country is very expensive, and often more than the impoverished population can afford. The Hadi government moved the central bank that had until then been paying the salaries of government employees in rebel-held areas, and it did this despite numerous warnings that it would have a devastating effect on the population. The report acknowledges some of this, but doesn’t really explain why 17 million Yemenis don’t have enough food or who was responsible for causing the halt in paying government salaries. The average reader would have no way of knowing that these were the results of deliberate decisions by the governments supported by the U.S.

Wael Ibrahim gives his account of what is happening in Yemen:

Life for my friends and colleagues is a daily struggle. The bank has no cash so it is difficult to pay staff, who have struggled to pay for Eid celebrations. Civil servants haven’t been paid in more than six months. Most private sector companies have closed down so there are few jobs.

As the conflict goes on I’m seeing more and more poverty. There are 20 million people needing help in a population of 27 million people. I’ve seen famine-like conditions such as children with red streaks in their hair – a sign of malnutrition, and an alarming number of people at therapeutic feeding centres.

As Ibrahim notes, there are 5,000 new cases of cholera each day. Widespread malnutrition makes the population much more vulnerable to disease, and that in turn makes it more difficult to prevent the spread of the epidemic. According to UNICEF, a severely malnourished child is nine times more likely to die from a disease like cholera than a well-fed one, and there are now more than half a million children with severe acute malnutrition and another million and a half that are acutely malnourished. Famine and preventable disease are threatening to cause massive loss of life in Yemen, but the international response to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis continues to be woefully inadequate.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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