‘One million children’ at risk of cholera death in Yemen

Infection rate continues to rise as deliveries of medical supplies restricted

 A cholera-infected child receives treatment at a makeshift tent at a hospital in  Yemen. Photograph: EPA/Yahya Arhab

A cholera-infected child receives treatment at a makeshift tent at a hospital in Yemen. Photograph: EPA/Yahya Arhab


One million Yemeni children are at risk of dying from cholera due to the war and blockade in the country, according to the charity Save the Children. Since the outbreak began three months ago, there have been 1,900 deaths and 440,000 cases – a number that exceeds the global record of more than 340,000 cases in Haiti for the whole of 2011.

The cholera infection rate is rising due to the advent of the rainy season. Oxfam predicts the the number of victims could reach 600,000 while the World Health Organisation says cholera cases have spread to 21 of the country’s 23 provinces.

In a report, Save the Children said: “Malnourished children have substantially reduced immune systems and are at least three times more likely to die if they contract cholera.”

The disease, spread by sewage contaminated water, causes severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration, which can be treated if victims are quickly rehydrated orally and intravenously.

No visas

During the 28 months of the Saudi Arabia-led bombing campaign against tribal rebels, 55 per cent of Yemen’s health system has been destroyed, and Save the Children said that “health workers have not been paid for nearly a year”.

Oxfam insists urgent measures must be taken to counter and treat the disease. “We need a massive, well co-ordinated effort to get clean water, decent sanitation and simple things like soap to people to keep them safe from disease. We need . . . entry of supplies and people so we can get on with the job.”

However, the blockade is obstructing deliveries of food and medical supplies through Yemen’s ports and preventing supplies from reaching rebel-held Sanaa, where the medical emergency is critical.

Auke Lootsma, UN development programme country director, said: “We have difficulties obtaining permission from the coalition and the government of Yemen to transport jet fuel to Sanaa to facilitate these flights.”

The UN operates two humanitarian flights from Jordan and Djibouti but there is no fuel available in Sanaa to provide for return journeys. The government and rebels also refuse to issue visas to humanitarian staff.

‘Stop the war’

Mr Lootsma said there are cases of meningitis in addition to the cholera epidemic. UN children’s agency (Unicef) director Anthony Lake said: “In the areas where we are working effectively, both the number of [cholera] cases and the fatality rate are going down. So it’s a race between us and the rains and the continuing destruction and the fighting.” He urged actors inside and outside Yemen to “stop the war”.

Raging cholera is only one aspect of the disaster, according to UN figures. Two-thirds of the 27.6 million Yemenis require emergency aid; 4.5 million children and pregnant and lactating women are malnourished; 14 million have no healthcare.

At least 10,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000 wounded in the war, mainly by bombing and shelling by the coalition backed by the US and UK, which provide intelligence, logistics support and billions of dollars worth of arms.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after Houthi tribesmen revolted and ousted the Saudi-sponsored regime.