Yemenis, already on the tipping point after more than two years of war, are now being forced to choose between treating cholera and putting food on the table, said Oxfam in a new report, entitled Yemen: Catastrophic Cholera Crisis.
Oxfam has spoken to many families who have to rely on selling their personal belongings and going into debt to buy food and pay for cholera treatment. Seeking medical treatment is often the last resort, and many only do so when it is already too late. Millions of people are struggling to buy enough to eat and those who are then hit by cholera are only able to afford the costs of transportation, medicine and doctor’s fees by further reducing the amount of food they buy.
Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen said: “Each day that passes brings more suffering to the unbearable lives of the Yemeni people. The world is shamefully failing them. A new disaster after another is leading to a man-made catastrophe in Yemen and thousands of people face stark live or die choices every day. What more needs to happen in Yemen for the international community to properly respond?”
Since March 2015, the war has devastated the country, killing over 5,000 civilians, pushing seven million towards starvation and leaving nearly half a million children malnourished. It has led to the world’s worst outbreak of cholera recorded in a single year, with a staggering half a million suspected cases since April. Nearly 2,000 people have died of suspected cholera which has affected all but one governorate in Yemen.
While the number of new cases has slowed slightly, the disease is still spreading and threatening thousands of people who don’t have clean water or healthcare and the current rainy season is likely to aggravate the spread of cholera. In addition, the overall disastrous situation means a high risk of other diseases breaking out, as a recent increase in meningitis cases shows.
Several factors, resulting directly from the effects of war, drove the spread of cholera. In particular, the prolonged period of hunger and malnutrition has made people vulnerable to disease. Hajjah and Al-Hudaydah governorates, which are among the four worst regions in terms of food insecurity, are also among the three governorates with the highest numbers of suspected cholera cases.
Salaries in the public sector have not been paid for nearly a year and people’s ability in general to make a living has collapsed as the economy has been decimated. Up to 30,000 health workers have not been paid or paid only partially and the conflict resulted in the devastation of the health sector, with only 45 percent of the health facilities fully functional, which clearly debilitated the ability to properly respond to the cholera outbreak.
Oxfam’s report includes personal stories of those struggling to survive the cholera crisis. Mohammad Ahmed, a 33-year-old farmer who was displaced by the conflict from Sa’adah, says he has to take his mother to the hospital every three months as she suffers from a heart condition. He had to sell his wife’s jewelry and his Jambia (a popular Yemeni dagger and belt), and people gave him some money out of sympathy. He is now without money for his mother’s next visit and he has no idea where he’ll get it from since he already sold everything he owns. Another family had to fork out about 15,000 Yemeni riyals, a fortune for many families, to travel to the nearest cholera treatment center.