This website stores cookies on your computer. These cookies are used to improve your website experience and provide more personalized services to you, both on this website and through other media. To find out more about the cookies we use, see our Privacy Policy. We won't track your information when you visit our site. But in order to comply with your preferences, we'll have to use just one tiny cookie so that you're not asked to make this choice again.

Cholera wreaks havoc in Yemen

Spilling into the hallways of crowded Yemeni hospitals, children writhe in pain from cholera. Displaced villagers roam baking hot plains and barren mountains to evade warring militias.

The escalating outbreak of disease and displacement of tens of thousands by recent fighting has inflamed one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, pushing Yemen’s war-pummelled society ever nearer to collapse.


Cholera — a diarrheal disease spread by food or water tainted with human faeces — has killed 180 people in less than three weeks, according to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Samira Ali, a worried mother, expressed shock at the scene at Sabaeen Hospital in Sanaa, the ancient capital in the north held by the armed Houthi movement since late 2015.

“My young son suddenly started suffering from severe diarrhea. We went to the hospital and found it full, we couldn’t find a place,” said Ali, a teacher.

“Only with difficulty were the doctors able to give him the medicines which saved his life. This situation is tragic.”

The UN now estimates that in Yemen a child under the age of five dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, two million people have fled fighting near their homes and only half of hospitals have staff and supplies to function normally.

Already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, Yemen was engulfed in 2015 by civil war pitting the Houthis against the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

More than ever before in the war, state institutions are losing their ability to withstand the spread of pestilence and the mounting death toll.

A battle for control of the central bank has left salaries in Houthi-held lands in and around Sanaa largely unpaid for six months, ruining the lives of hospital and sanitation workers.

Pumps to sanitize the water supply sit idle for lack of fuel, while maintenance agencies tasked with chlorinating aquifers go without salaries and supplies.

Doctors treating the cholera outbreak fare little better.

“The health system has been hanging by a thread,” UNICEF’s spokesman in Yemen, Rajat Madhok, said.

“Wages haven’t come in, humanitarian workers and doctors are trying their best but some leave their work to seek jobs where they can get paid. Declining value of the currency hurts and all this has a cascading effect that is badly hurting the sector.”

A streak of misery runs the length of Yemen’s western Red Sea coast — from fighting in the north along the border with Saudi Arabia to a new coalition-backed offensive working its way up to the main port of Hodeidah from the south.

Clutching her young son on Hodeidah’s streets, 19-year-old Saleha Ahmed Ali recounted her weary trek down the coast from the northwest. “We’re from Haradh, but because of the war we fled to Bajel to be safe there. But when the air strikes got worse in Bajel, we fled to Hodeidah,” she said.

“There’s no food or milk for our children. We can’t even find a mat to sleep on or a bucket to wash our children. They haven’t given us tents and it rained yesterday. We don’t know where to hide. We’ve lost our homes. This war has dragged us from place to place.”

Speaking to Reuters by phone from Sanaa, Shabia Mantoo of the UN refugee agency UNHCR wondered why the scale of the suffering had not spurred more peacemaking efforts.

“It was already catastrophic, how much worse can it get? Nineteen million people are going through real suffering. Yemen now is an inventory of misery — what more will it take to get the world’s attention?“

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month that UN-backed talks are needed to resolve the conflict. But the Trump administration is considering an increase in intelligence cooperation with the Saudi-led coalition and has not ruled out US assistance for an assault on Hodeidah.

“The Americans are now much more hawkish on Iran,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. “It’s possible that they could support an escalation of the conflict in Yemen in order to send Iran a message.”

Share This Post

related posts

On Top