For Yemen, Cholera could be the straw that breaks the camel's back

 Yemen
 Emergency ResponseWater Sanitation & Hygiene,
 3rd Jul 2017

By Wael Ibrahim.  Country Director, CARE International Yemen.

2017 has so far been a hectic year for Yemen.   Rather than the situation abating, it is getting worse. A second wave of cholera since 2016 is underway causing additional suffering to already wearied people in Yemen. Cholera is a worrying symptom of much broader challenges currently faced by Yemenis and humanitarian actors providing much needed assistance. The scale and spread of this outbreak is unprecedented with number of infections increasing by the day within an environment where humanitarian and security challenges seem to multiply at equal pace.

Within less than two months, over 200,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported, with more than 1,300 associated deaths.  At this rate, cholera may cause more death in Yemen than the war that is now in its third year of escalation.  This outbreak could not have come at a worse time.  Yemen’s service delivery institutions are at near collapse due to years of lack of resourcing, a lack of payment of salaries for civil servants, destruction of facilities as a result of prolonged conflict among a plethora of challenges.  These institutions – specifically health, water and sanitation – are paramount to effectively countering any cholera outbreak.



Bushra has just started treatment at the cholera isolation unit at the Aljomhuri Hospital in Hajja, Yemen. Photo: CARE/ Abdulhakim Ansi

Humanitarian actors, volunteer civil servants and health workers are racing against time to treat rising cases and prevent further infections.  This is however fraught with challenges.  Yemen’s Humanitarian response plan that was launched four months ago is currently only 30% funded, barely enough to meet the scale of humanitarian need in the country.   Access to people needing assistance is difficult, not just due to active conflict but as a result of multiple barriers placed by conflict parties to humanitarian aid delivery.

And while humanitarians set up rehydration and treatment centers, hold clean up campaigns and chlorinate all possible water sources, there remains 17 million people facing a threat of famine, more diseases that go unaddressed due to a failing health system, and women, children and vulnerable groups that continue to bear the brunt of the crisis and remain faceless in the midst of efforts to bring an end to their suffering.

This cholera outbreak is but a symptom of multiple crises, requiring multiple solutions and cannot be handled in isolation.  Peace is long overdue for Yemen and the conflict must end to allow for sustainable and inclusive peace.  Humanitarian action cannot in itself cover needs and create sustainable measures to ensure access to basic services.  Public service delivery institutions must restart or enhance their functions across Yemen to meet the scale of need.

Cholera is endemic to Yemen, and this is not the first nor will it be the last outbreak.  Our response now will determine what humanitarians are almost certain to face in coming seasons.  It is imperative that even while we scramble to save lives now, we support sustainable systems and measures that will ensure that Yemeni communities have better access to safe water, improved hygiene standards and access to vital health care.

I pay tribute to my team in CARE Yemen and those of sister organizations. Like many others, they continue to provide for not only their families but also for dozens of others that rely on them.  Day to day life in Yemen is difficult, and yet they continue worry about and serve millions of others in need of support.  Our Yemeni colleagues do this with great dedication and commitment.

It is the resilience of Yemenis that continues to keep life bearable in Yemen. We at CARE are privileged that we are here, doing what we can now, when it matters most for people in Yemen. More can be done and it must be done now.  I encourage those that hold the power, influence and resources to make the difference to contemplate on this and make right decisions on how they will stand with the people of Yemen during this very difficult time!


For more on our work in Yemen, click here.

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