Yemen cholera outbreak now the world’s largest on record

September 28, 2017

Yemen’s five-month old cholera crisis is now the world’s largest outbreak since records began, Oxfam said today, as the number of suspected cases rose to over 755,000.

The Yemen outbreak has overtaken the 754,373 suspected cases recorded in Haiti in the six years between 2010 and 2015. More than 2,100 people have already died from cholera, and while the spread of the disease has slowed slightly, it is still spreading quickly. At current rates of increase, the number of suspected cases would reach one million by November.

While cholera is not new to Yemen, the scale of this outbreak is unprecedented. It is being driven by a two-and-a-half year conflict, borderline famine and entrenched poverty. Over half of all health facilities are destroyed or only partially working, seven million people are a step away from famine and over 20 million need some level of humanitarian aid.

Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director, said:

“Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and it is getting even worse. More than two years of war have created ideal conditions for the disease to spread. The war has pushed the country to the edge of famine, forced millions from their homes, virtually destroyed the already weak health services and hampered efforts to respond to the cholera outbreak.

“Cholera is taking a horrific toll on people in Yemen. We cannot continue to allow children to die in pain of a disease that is easily treatable.”

Nigel Timmins,
Oxfam Humanitarian Director

“Yemen’s tragedy is a man-made catastrophe for which all sides bear responsibility. Yet it is being fuelled by deliberate political decisions in London, Washington and other world capitals. Billions of dollars worth of arms are being sold with little if any concern for the destruction of lives their use is causing. Our common humanity tells us this has to stop and efforts to foster peace have to start.”

Since March 2015, the war has killed more than 5,100 civilians and forced about three million people from their homes. When the second wave of cholera outbreak started on April 27, the war had laid the basis for it to spread.

Twenty percent of Yemen’s districts show a clear convergence of high levels of hunger and cholera. The governorate of Hajjah for example – which hosts one fifth of Yemen’s internally displaced people because of war – is both on the brink of famine and has the second highest number of suspected cholera cases among the governorates.

Many displaced families have told Oxfam that they have been forced to choose between getting treatment for cholera or feeding their families. Weakened by hunger and a lack of clean water, and with nothing left to sell, people are much more vulnerable to contract cholera and are struggling to get treatment. Only 45 per cent of health facilities are fully functional because of the war. The number of people unable to access to healthcare has increased by 76 per cent since the escalation of the conflict according to the UN, while the costs of treatment and/or transportation to the working facilities are now often too high for people.

The humanitarian response has also directly been affected by the war. Obtaining visas for cholera specialists can sometimes take up to two months. In the country, many organizations report restrictions on their staff preventing them to reach areas in need.

As part of its cholera response, Oxfam has already provided water and sanitation assistance to more than 430,000 people in Taiz, Aden, Hajjah, Al-Hudaydah, and Amran governorates to prevent and contain the disease.

Oxfam is calling on all parties to the conflict, and those backing it, to commit to an immediate ceasefire in order to end the bloodshed. Yemeni authorities and the international community must also ensure in the meantime that humanitarian assistance is facilitated through the sufficient provision of visas, supplies and access as required.

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