A perfect storm has been brewing in Yemen. Along with air strikes that have obliterated cities to rubble, millions of homeless civilians suffering from famine and a tangled political climate, Yemen is also on the verge of the plague. The country’s cholera outbreak, which began in October 2016 with just 11 reported cases, has now infected 500,000 people, according to an August 2017 report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The widespread filth and contamination on the streets and the lack of medicine, hospitals, and doctors has exacerbated the spread of cholera: a disease that is treatable for more than 99% of people who have access to health services, according to the WHO. However, thousands of ill Yemeni people have received no such aid. According to a UN report, nearly 2,000 people in Yemen have died from cholera. Although the UN has attempted to fund forms of relief, the organization has found difficulties allocating the budget for cholera. Along with the spread of cholera, an estimated 17 million people are suffering from famine in Yemen, affecting 2.2 million children, according to a UN report released earlier this year. As the population of malnourished people accumulates, the outbreak of cholera has become more apparent. The UN called for more funds from international organizations to combat both famine and cholera, but neither budgets have been met. According to the UN, the organization only received $47 million of the $250 million proposed to aid Yemen’s cholera outbreak and raised just one-third of the $2.1 billion needed to supply food for the millions of Yemenis experiencing famine. Overall, the UN’s Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is only 40.5% funded. While plans to treat the disease have been in jeopardy, the efforts to prevent the spread of cholera may cease. A spokesperson from the WHO said the organization paused plans to ship cholera vaccines to Yemen because efforts to combat cholera in other countries may be more effective. The shortage of vaccines in Yemen could multiply the number of people affected by the disease. Cholera, which is often spread by poor hygiene and contaminated drinking water, can impact people in Yemen because the country has scarce clean water resources. According to UNICEF, 19.3 million Yemeni people do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Along with vaccines, other gaps in medical aid have become more necessary. In medical facilities across the country, the lack of funds has hit the epidemic’s most needed resource: health workers. The 300,000 health workers who have been treating cholera in Yemen have not been paid for nearly a year, according to a report from the UN. For the millions of Yemeni civilians, cholera is just one more way people die every day. If not by cholera, a Yemeni could die from gunfire or a landmine on the streets in the capital city of Sanaa, from suicide bombing in the southern city of Aden, from an air strike throughout Yemen’s northern providence, or simply from no access to food in weeks. The civilian death toll in Yemen has reached 10,000 as of January 2017. The UN has attributed the death to the key political players in Yemen’s civil war and have called on negotiations to stop the rising death rate. “The Yemeni people need the parties to commit to political dialogue, or this man-made crisis will never end. In the meantime, together we can—we must—avert this famine, this human catastrophe,” said UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs emergency coordinator Stephen O’Brien in a statement in March 2017. The Yemeni civil war, which has devastated the country for two years, began after the Houthi rebel group attempted to take over the country in March 2015. After the Houthi rebel group and its governing force, the Supreme Political Council reigned control over the northern provinces of Yemen and its capital, the Yemeni government allied with a Saudi-Arabian led coalition to reinstate its power. The political players, which include an alliance between the Houthis, Iran, and Syria and an alliance between the Saudi-led coalition and the U.S., have made the conflict more difficult to soothe over. In 2017, the U.S. multiplied its airstrikes in Yemen from the year before. In January, the U.S. Navy Seal team launched air strikes and led a raid that killed 30 civilians. In March, U.S. President Trump ordered 40 airstrikes over a five-day period. With the continuation of airstrikes and raids in Yemen, humanitarian groups have faced difficulty reaching Yemeni civilians. As political entities grapple for power, the absence of a governing body has prevented funds for food and medical supplies needed to stop famine and cholera in its tracks. With the disease escalating to nearly half a million people, the UN has requested international aid for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. In an August UN Security Council meeting, officials called on worldwide organizations and countries to advocate for a political resolution under humanitarian and human rights laws. “Death looms for Yemenis by air, land and sea,” said Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN Special Envoy for Yemen. “Those who survived cholera will continue to suffer the consequences of 'political cholera' that infects Yemen and continues to obstruct the road towards peace.” UNOHC emergency coordinator O’Brien elaborated that although the situation in Yemen is desperate, a solution is possible. “This human tragedy is deliberate and wanton—it is political and, with will and with courage which are both in short supply, it is stoppable,” said O’Brien.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.