Yemen ‘on brink of new cholera epidemic’, charity warns

A siege of Hodeidah by Saudi and UAE forces could have devastating consequences on the city, says Save the Children.

Children pose for a photo outside their family''s hut at a shantytown near the port of Hodeidah, Yemen
Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014, when the Houthis overran much of the country [Reuters]

Thousands of people in Yemen could be affected by a new wave of deadly cholera in the coming weeks, an international charity says.

In a press release on Thursday, UK-based Save the Children warned the hot summer months are ideal conditions for cholera to spread rapidly.

It added that almost 3,000 suspected cholera cases were reported in the first week of July across the country – the highest number since the start of the year.

“Cholera could spread like wildfire in Yemen, potentially infecting thousands of children and completely overwhelming an already-crippled health system,” the charity’s CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt said.

“Many hospitals have been reduced to rubble, and those that are still standing are barely functioning. Doctors have not been paid, pharmacies are understocked, and power cuts happen constantly.”

More than one million people were infected with cholera last year. 

‘Ground zero’

Yemen is also now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance. Malnutrition, cholera, and other diseases have killed or sickened thousands of civilians.

The charity was specifically fearful that Hodeidah could become most affected as a Saudi and Emirati military coalition fighting Houthi rebels in the northern part of the country threatens to besiege the city.

“Hodeidah … could become ground zero for a new outbreak of the highly contagious disease,” it said. 

“Should the port city become besieged it would be devastating for an estimated 350,000 people who have not yet fled,” Save the Children added.  

On June 13, Yemeni government forces – backed by the coalition – waged a wide-ranging operation to retake Hodeidah and its strategic seaport from Houthi rebels. More than 121,000 people have since fled.  

According to a doctor working with the charity in Hodeidah, the city is bracing itself for an upsurge in cholera cases.

“We’re terrified of another outbreak as the number of cholera cases is increasing day by day,” Dr Mariam Aldogani said.

“Current conditions mean that it could be difficult to keep the number of cases under control. Water chlorination isn’t a durable solution, the summer heat is relentless, there’s rubbish lining the streets, and the health system is bursting at the seams.”

Humanitarian disaster

Impoverished Yemen remains wracked by violence since the Houthis overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa, in 2014.

The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and allies – who accuse the Houthis of being Iranian proxies – launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back rebel gains. Iran and the Houthis deny the accusations.

The war in Yemen is now in its fourth year and has left 11.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance.

Nearly eight million children go hungry every day and more than 80 percent of people rely on aid agencies for essentials such as food and healthcare, according to the charity.

Source: Al Jazeera