Conflict, economic crises, and climate change converge to create breeding ground for fresh cholera outbreak in Yemen

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An alarming rise in the number of recorded cholera cases in Yemen in recent weeks risks becoming an epidemic, if action is not taken quickly, Oxfam warned today.

In recent weeks, cholera cases have been recorded in six governorates in the South and East of Yemen, as well as in two governorates in the North. Between 2 October and 3 December, 1336 suspected cases and 11 associated deaths have been reported in the South of the country. Lack of reporting in many areas, means the actual figures are likely to be much higher.

Cholera is caused by lack of clean water and sanitation, and is highly contagious, especially in overcrowded places. Migrant communities have been disproportionately affected, reflecting the increased challenges they face in accessing clean water and health services.

For Yemenis, the cases have sparked fears there might be a return to the levels of cholera not seen since the epidemic of 2016-2021, when there were 2.5 million recorded cases and 4000 related deaths. In 2019, 93 per cent of all cholera cases in the world were recorded in Yemen.

By 2021, the number of cases had significantly reduced, thanks in large part to a successful vaccination programme. But lack of funding, particularly around vaccine provision, risks undoing this good work.

Naser, 37, from Abs district in the Hajjah governorate, lost his daughter to suspected cholera:

‘’I lost one of my daughters to acute diarrhoea and vomiting, and I fear for my other two girls. When I took my little three-month-old girl to the hospital she stayed there for some days, and then they asked us to take her home. The next day, her situation got worse. After four days of suffering, she passed away in my arms.’’

Twenty million Yemenis are now in need of health assistance, with a health sector only 40 per cent[1] funded and ravaged by the effects of almost nine years of war. Almost half of Yemen’s health facilities are either partially functional or non-functional due to staff, funding and power shortages, as well as lack of medicines, supplies and equipment.

In Hadramawt, Al Mahrah, and Socotra archipelago governorates, over 18 000 households have recently been affected by flooding from Cyclone Tej, badly damaging health and sanitation infrastructure, as well as peoples’ homes and livelihoods.

Over 15 million people in Yemen are without access to clean water, with women and children disproportionately affected.

Abdulwasea Mohammed, Campaigns, Advocacy and Media Manager for Oxfam in Yemen, said:

“The spike in cholera cases should be a wake-up call for Yemen’s leaders and the international community at large. Cholera can and should be easily prevented and treated, but without proper investment in the health system, access to clean water and sanitation facilities and vaccines, ordinary Yemenis will continue to pay the price.

“Cholera thrives in times of conflict. Almost nine years of war in Yemen have decimated the health system and robbed many Yemenis of their lives and livelihoods. We urgently need a just and sustainable peace in order to allow the country to start to rebuild and recover.”

Oxfam is calling for the international community to provide adequate funding of life-saving aid, particularly for health, resilience and livelihoods programming, and increased efforts to negotiate a lasting comprehensive peace in Yemen.


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