The United Nations (UN) has warned that Yemen faces “the world’s worst cholera outbreak in the midst of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”, with the number of cases expected to reach 600,000 by the end of the year.
"In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every governorate of this war-torn country,” the executive directors of three UN agencies said in a joint statement released yesterday (26 July) at the end of a two-day visit to the country.
"We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world," the statement says.
“Nearly two million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera. Disease creates more malnutrition. A vicious combination,” continued the statement.
The directors of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme toured both government-and rebel-held areas during their visit.
They said they saw “children who can barely gather the strength to breathe” and huge swathes of the country’s vital infrastructure damaged or destroyed.
Last week, the charity, Oxfam, said there had been more than 360,000 suspected cases of cholera in the country in the three months since the outbreak started.
"It is quite frankly staggering that in just three months, more people in Yemen have contracted cholera than any country has suffered in a single year since modern records began," Nigel Timmins, Oxfam's humanitarian director, said in the statement.
"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. For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow.”
"It is hard to imagine how much more Yemen can take before it collapses entirely," Timmins continued.
International donors pledged around £1.5 billion in aid earlier this year but only a third of it has been disbursed, the United Nations said earlier this month.
Yemen's health, water and sanitation systems are collapsing after war broke out in March 2015 between government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the rebel Houthi movement. The war in Yemen has killed more than 8,000 people and wounded 44,500
The Saudi-led coalition has imposed a sea and air blockade of rebel-held territory, allowing in only limited UN-supervised deliveries of basic goods.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen - which has left 18.8 million of Yemen's 28 million people needing humanitarian assistance and seven million on the brink of famine - was singled out by Pope Francis during his speech to Vatican diplomats at the beginning of the year.
Speaking of the need to support processes of dialogue and emphasising the need for courageous gestures he implored international actors to foster reconciliation in Yemen.
The UN says it is deploying rapid-response teams on the ground to explain to people people how to protect themselves by cleaning and storing drinking water. But clean water is in short supply.
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with a particular strain of bacteria, ‘Vibrio cholera.’
In severe cases, the disease can kill within hours if left untreated.
PICTURE: A woman infected with Cholera receives medical treatment at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, on 22 July, 2017