A hideous milestone in the 21st century.
— ICRC (@ICRC) December 21, 2017
The number of cholera cases in Yemehas surpassed one million people, marking what the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls a “hideous milestone” for what was already one of the fastest growing outbreaks of the deadly disease in modern history — a direct result of the U.S.-backed war that has ravaged one of the world’s most impoverished nations.
As of late September, cholera had killed more than 2,200 people in Yemen, nearly a third of which were children, according to UN figures.
Although cholera has a death rate of 0.3 percent, the size of the outbreak combined with the lack of equipment and medical staff to deal with the crisis puts thousands more at risk of death.
Both the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition are accused of preventing free access to medical facilities, and compounding the crisis by besieging civilian areas or enforcing blockades.
The disease is spread through water and food that has been contaminated with waste from a person who already has the disease, and occurs most frequently in places with poor sanitation and sewage facilities.
Yemen’s conflict has brought its healthcare system to its knees with many hospitals unable to help patients due to a lack of appropriate medicine and damage to equipment caused by Saudi-led coalition air attacks.
Eight months after the country’s cholera outbreak began — stemming from water and sanitation systems that have been bombed out of commission by Saudi Arabian airstrikes that receive direct support from the U.S. military —humanitarian agencies have recorded 2,200 deaths from the disease, nearly a third of which were children.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen aid groups have called on the U.S., France, and the U.K. to stop supplying arms to the Saudis, whose bombing campaign against the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015 passed its 1,000th day this week.
In addition to the cholera crisis, the chaos, violence, and destruction have left one of the world’s poorest populations to the brink of famine and struggling with a diphtheria outbreak. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the war and nearly 80 percent of the country lacks access to adequate food, clean water, and healthcare.
In addition to the lack of clean water and sanitation, naval blockades — also supported by the U.S. — have caused the country’s health crises to spiral out of control, stopping shipments of drugs, medical supplies, and foreign aid at the ports and preventing them from entering the country to reach the needy population.
Oxfam called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen “a man-made tragedy” on Thursday, while the International Rescue Committee expressed alarm at the cholera epidemic’s milestone and the resurgence of other preventable diseases that have been eradicated in much of the world.
“This suffering is the direct result of a fractured healthcare system due to prolonged conflict in the country,” said Michelle Gayer, Senior Director of Emergency Health at the IRC.
“Cholera has plagued the Yemeni people since April, and now easily preventable diseases are beginning to wreak havoc on a population already in need. If the war continues, Yemen will see even more outbreaks of other diseases that have not been seen in years.”
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen backed by a coalition of Arab and western states, following the capture of the Yemeni capital Sana’a in 2014 by Houthi-allied forces, and their subsequent advance southwards towards the port city of Yemen.
Despite control of the country’s skies and a naval blockade, Saudi forces have failed to dislodge the Houthis from much of northern Yemen.
The fallout of the continuing conflict on civilians has been massive with millions facing hunger, according to the UN, which says the country is on the brink of famine and described the crisis as the world’s worst crisis.