Suspected cholera cases have almost tripled in Yemen’s coastal Hudaydah governorate since a dramatic increase in fighting between the Houthis and forces backed by the Saudi- and Emirati-led Coalition since June this year.
Health facilities supported by NGO Save the Children (Report, October 2) across the governorate recorded a 170 per cent increase in the number of suspected cholera cases, from 497 in June to 1,342 in August. The spike is in line with national data that also shows a steady increase of suspected cholera cases across Yemen. 30 per cent of all suspected cases are children under five years old, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The UN describes Yemen as the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world", with millions of Yemenis facing imminent famine as well as battling cholera and diphtheria outbreaks.
Fighting between the Saudi-led Arab coalition backed by the US and UK, and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has killed more than 10,000 people and caused over 40,000 casualties in Yemen since March 2015. Water networks, power plants, airports, bridges, roads, schools and health facilities have all been destroyed in the fighting.
Between 26 and 28 July, airstrikes resulted in the damage of a sanitation facility and water station that supplies Hodeidah with most of its water. After this incident, suspected cholera cases almost doubled between July (732) and August (1,342) in Save the Children- supported health centers.
In a recent UN survey of more than 2,000 respondents across Yemen, more than half (56 per cent) cited water supply damage as the most common form of infrastructure damage. In Hudaydah governorate this jumped to 62 per cent of respondents.
As battles have intensified around Hudaydah’s port city in September, Save the Children is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe should the ground fighting reach densely populated areas or if the city should be besieged.
Saudi-led coalition forces moved on Hudaydah in the middle of June. Diplomatic moves have helped to prevent an all-out military invasion of the city while the warring parties negotiate a potential deal that could allow fighters to leave.
Nevertheless, local health facilities reported in mid-July that around 328 had been injured and nearly 50 killed during fighting to that point.
UNICEF has called repeated attacks on water systems in Yemen "deplorable". Geert Cappelaere, the agency's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa said in a July 24 statement that:
“Continuous attacks on water systems in Yemen are cutting off children and their families from water; increasing the likelihood of water-borne diseases spreading in the war-torn country", Cappelaere said.
Speaking from Sanaa, Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Yemen Country Director, said this week:
“Children in Yemen are experiencing severe hardships that no child should endure, facing multiple threats from bombs and bullets to disease and extreme hunger. It’s unacceptable that they’re dying from entirely preventable causes.
“Treating cholera is straightforward providing children can get the rehydration and antibiotics they need, and hospitals and clinics are adequately equipped. But nearly four years of conflict has led to a near-total collapse of the health system in Yemen. The warring parties have repeatedly attacked medical facilities, making some of them unusable or inaccessible. If this continues many more children could die of cholera and other preventable diseases”.
“There are no aboveground water sources in Yemen so the vast majority of communities depend entirely on wells and water trucks to meet their daily needs. Even in towns and cities water systems are in a state of disrepair or damaged from the fighting. Limited availability often results in poor hygiene practices and sanitation, heightening the risk of further cholera outbreaks”.
“The solution is simple. The fighting must stop and the parties to the conflict need to find a political solution. In the meantime, Save the Children will continue to distribute medicines and support clinics to reach the most vulnerable children before it’s too late”.