Yemen cholera worst on record & numbers still rising

Massive aid effort and cease-fire needed as rainy season approaches.

July 20, 2017

The number of people with cholera in Yemen is now the largest ever in any country in a single year since records began, Oxfam said today. At more than 360,000 suspected cholera cases in just three months since the outbreak started, it now tops the previous annual record of 340,311 in Haiti in 2011.

Though there are signs the spike in cases 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 cholera outbreaks since 1949 when data was first collected.

Almost 2,000 people in Yemen have died from suspected cholera since late April this year, and many more are now at risk.

“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,” said Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director Nigel Timmins, who just returned from a fact finding mission to Yemen. “For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow,”

“This is a massive crisis needing a massive response – if anything the numbers we have are likely to underestimate the scale of the crisis. So far funding from government donors to pay for the aid effort has been lacklustre at best, less than half is what is needed,” Timmins added.

Cholera is easy to treat and simple to prevent. Oxfam is calling for a massive, well-coordinated effort to get clean water and sanitation to people affected. Restrictions placed on supplies entering the country have hampered efforts to get even simple things like soap into Yemen.

“The war has had a devastating effect on Yemen’s people and infrastructure, leaving millions with no way to earn a living or stay in their homes,” said Victoria Hopkins, Manager of Humanitarian Programs for Oxfam Canada. “Seven million people are now on the brink of starvation. With more than half of the country’s health facilities damaged or destroyed, cholera is rapidly spreading in vulnerable communities.

“Hospitals, ports, roads and bridges have been bombed, and health workers haven’t been paid in nearly a year. Waste is piling up on the streets and in the settlements of displaced people, where access to clean drinking water is inadequate and sanitation services have been severely damaged,” Hopkins added. “Aid agencies tackling the cholera crisis are in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak.”

“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,” Timmins said.

The world's major arms exporters - which include the UK and US - are making more money from arming the Saudi led coalition force than they are spending on Yemen’s humanitarian appeal. In 2016, Saudi Arabia spent nearly $3 billion on arms from the world’s major arms exporters. As of this month, many of those same governments had given just $620 million toward the $2.1 billion UN appeal for Yemen.

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 piece 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.

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Notes to Editors: 

  1. Footage, photos and testimonies are available on demand.
  2. Figures of previous cholera outbreaks taken from the World Health Organization’s Global Health Observatory data repository http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.175?lang=en
  3. From April 27 to July 18, 2017, 362,545 suspected cholera cases and 1,817 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 July 19, 2017, WHO http://www.emro.who.int/yem/yemeninfocus/situation-reports.html
  4. The largest outbreak since modern records began was in Haiti where the total number of cholera cases reached 754,373 between 2010 and 2015. 
  5. Link to Oxfam's Yemen appeal: https://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/crisis-yemen

Contact information

Shirlee Engel
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
shirlee.engel@oxfam.org
(613) 240-3047
Twitter: @ShirleeEngel

Ian Bray
Senior Press Officer
Oxfam
+44 (0)1865 472289
+44 (0)7721 461339
Twitter: @IanOxfam
Skype: Ian-Bray
http://www.oxfam.org.uk/news

For updates, please follow @Oxfam or @OxfamYemen.