The number of people suffering from cholera in Yemen is now the largest ever in any country in a single year since records began, Oxfam said today.
At more than 350,000 suspected cholera cases in just three months since the outbreak started, it tops the previous annual record of 340,311 in Haiti in 2011.
Though there are signs that the spread of the outbreak is slowing, the country’s rainy season from July to September will increase the risk of the disease spreading further. It is feared that the total number of people infected could eventually rise to over 600,000, making it one of the largest outbreaks since records began in 1949.
Almost 2,000 people in Yemen have died from suspected cholera since late April this year and many more are at risk.
Oxfam International’s Humanitarian Director Nigel Timmins, who has just returned from Yemen, said for many people weakened by war and hunger, cholera was the knockout blow.
“Cholera has spread unchecked in a country already on its knees after two years of war and which is teetering on the brink of famine,” Mr Timmins said.
“This is a massive crisis and it needs a massive response – if anything the numbers we have are likely to underestimate the scale of the crisis. So far, funding from governments to pay for the aid effort has been lacklustre at best, amounting to less than half is what’s needed.
“Cholera is easy to treat and simple to prevent. We need a well-coordinated effort to get clean water and decent sanitation to people and simple things like soap to keep them safe from disease. We need an end to country entry restrictions of supplies and people so that we can get on with the job.
“The war has destroyed Yemen’s economy and left millions of people without jobs or the means to earn a living, and forced 3 million Yemenis to flee their homes. It has precipitated a crisis that has left 7 million people on the brink of starvation.”
War has had a devastating effect on Yemen’s people and its infrastructure – almost 5,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting. Health, water and sanitation systems have been bombed to the point of collapse, leaving more than 15 million people without adequate access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation. Millions more are hungry and need help in getting a nutritious meal.
“Vital public servants such as health workers have not been paid for nearly a year. Hospitals, ports, roads and bridges have been bombed. All this is crippling efforts to tackle the cholera crisis and aid agencies are in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak,” he said.
“Those countries providing the arms and military support, such as the US and the UK, are fuelling a war that is causing wide-spread suffering and tipping a whole nation towards a catastrophe. It is hard to imagine how much more Yemen can take before it collapses entirely.”
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said the $10 million of humanitarian funding the Australian Government provided for Yemen in late April was a welcome start, but it was almost $18 million short of its fair share, according to Oxfam analysis.
“The Australian Government needs to continue to closely monitor the crisis, be prepared to commit additional funding this year and continue to use diplomatic channels to push for peace,” Dr Szoke said.
Oxfam is calling for an immediate cease-fire to enable a nationwide cholera campaign to tackle the disease unhindered by fighting and allow people to get their lives back together. It is calling for the opening of ports and Sanaa airport to allow a massive injection of aid and for the UN and aid agencies’ appeal to be fully funded.
Donations to support Oxfam’s emergency responses in Yemen and around the world can be made online at oxfam.org.au/yemen or by calling 1800 034 034.
For interviews, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
Footage of the cholera response at hospitals in Sanaa, Yemen, is available: https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/pages/search.php?search=%21collection33487&k=f231ac95aa
Photos of the cholera response are also available: https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=33467&k=7439a20960
Figures of previous cholera outbreaks are taken from the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory data repository.
From 27 April to 16 July 2017, 351,045 suspected cholera cases and 1,790 deaths (CFR: 0.5%) have been reported in 91.3% (21/23) of Yemen governorates, and 88% (293/333) of the districts. YEMEN: Cholera Outbreak Daily epidemiology update 17 July 2017 WHO.
The largest outbreak since modern records began was in Haiti where the total number of cholera cases reached 754,373 between 2010 and 2015.
Cholera is easily prevented with simple and affordable efforts at home and in the community, such as disinfection of water with chlorine, safe collection and storage of water, washing hands with soap, and understanding the myths, behaviours associated with cholera. When people suspect they have the symptoms they can drink a mix salt and sugar to rehydrate them while they make their way to the medical centre.
Oxfam has delivered programs on water, sanitation and hygiene in four governorates since July 2015, which help prevent the spread of cholera. The delivery of clean water, the cleaning and chlorination of water sources along with the building of latrine toilets and the organisation of hygiene awareness sessions have benefitted over one million people, including almost 400,000 children.