The ongoing cholera epidemic in Yemen could reach one million cases by the end of this year, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“The situation has really evolved in a very dramatic way and I think that it’s nothing short of a catastrophe,” said Alexandre Faite, the head of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen.
Yemen is experiencing the fastest-growing cholera epidemic in history. Today, the number of cholera cases has reached 750,000 and has resulted in 2,119 deaths. Around half of the deaths were children. The outbreak in Yemen will soon exceed the 754,373 cases recorded in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Cholera is an infectious disease that is spread through contaminated food and water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. The disease is known to disproportionately impact areas that are affected by conflict.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since March 2015, which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths. On one side of the conflict is the official, UN-recognized government; on the other side are the Shia Houthi rebels. The UN has placed blame for the epidemic on both sides of the conflict.
“The war has pushed the country to the edge of famine, forced millions from their homes, virtually destroyed the already weak health services and hampered efforts to respond to the cholera outbreak.” said Oxfam Humanitarian Director Nigel Timmins.
The collapsing health care system in Yemen has also contributed greatly to the spread of the disease. Less than half of the medical centers in the country are functioning and millions of people lack clean drinking water. Aid organizations are struggling to reach affected people in remote areas. This is further complicated by a Saudi blockade that has effectively cut-off food and medical supply lines.
This crisis has prompted the UN to sendwar crimes investigators to Yemen to look into human-rights violations. The investigation will examine abuses by both sides which ultimately could have contributed to the epidemic.