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Number of infected continues to rise as Yemen's cholera epidemic breaks record

By Oxfam

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The number of people with cholera in Yemen is now the largest ever in any country in a single year since records began, Oxfam said today. At over 360,000 suspected cholera cases in just three months since the outbreak started, it is now already the largest number of cases in a year, topping the previous annual record of 340,311 in Haiti in 2011. 

Though there are signs that the increase in numbers is slowing, the country’s rainy season from July to September will increase the risk of the disease spreading further. It is feared that the total number of people infected could eventually rise to over 600,000, making it one of the largest outbreak since records began in 1949. 

Almost 2,000 people in Yemen have died from suspected cholera since late April this year, and many more are now at risk, weakened by hunger, disease and the ongoing war. 

Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director who has just returned back from a fact finding mission to Yemen, said: “It is quite frankly staggering that in just three months more people in Yemen have contracted cholera than any country has suffered in a single year since modern records began. Cholera has spread unchecked in a country already on its knees after two years of war and teetering on the brink of famine. For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow. 

“This is a massive crisis needing a massive response – if anything the numbers we have are likely to underestimate the scale of the crisis. So far funding from government donors to pay for the aid effort has been lackluster at best, less than half is what is needed. 

“Cholera is easy to treat and simple to prevent. We need a massive, well-coordinated effort to get clean water, decent sanitation and simple things like soap to people to keep them safe from disease. We need an end to country entry restrictions of supplies and people so that we can get on with the job. 

“The war has destroyed the economy and left millions without jobs or the means to earn a living, forcing 3 million people to flee their homes. It has precipitated a crisis which has left 7 million people on the brink of starvation. And the war has destroyed or damaged more than half the country’s health facilities as the cholera outbreak rages on.

“Vital public servants such as health workers have not been paid for nearly a year. Hospitals, ports, roads and bridges have been bombed. All this is crippling efforts to tackle the cholera crisis. 

“Those countries providing the arms and military support, such as the U.S. and the U.K., are fueling a war that is causing wide-spread suffering and tipping a whole nation towards a catastrophe. It is hard to imagine how much more Yemen can take before it collapses entirely.” 

War has had a devastating effect on Yemen’s people and its infrastructure – almost 5,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting and parts of the country stand on the brink of famine. Health, water and sanitation systems have been bombed to the point of collapse, leaving over 15 million people without adequate access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation. Millions more are hungry and need help in getting a decent meal. 

Waste is piling up on the streets and in the settlements of displaced people because sanitation services, severely damaged by the over two-year war, cannot cope. Aid agencies tackling the cholera crisis are in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak.    

Meanwhile, the world's major arms exporters – which include the U.K. and U.S. – are making more money from arming the Saudi-led coalition force than they are spending on Yemen’s humanitarian appeal. In 2016, Saudi Arabia spent nearly $3 billion on arms from the world’s major arms exporters. As of this month, many of those same governments had given just $620 million toward the $2.1 billion UN appeal for Yemen. 

Oxfam is calling for an immediate ceasefire to enable a nationwide cholera campaign to tackle the disease, unhindered by fighting, and to allow people to get their lives back together. It is calling for the opening of ports and Sanaa airport to allow a massive injection of aid and for the UN and aid agencies’ appeal to be fully funded. 

Just this week, Oxfam joined forces with a group of seven other leading U.S.-based international relief organizations in an unprecedented effort urging Americans to donate to the new Hunger Relief Fund to respond to the looming famine in Yemen, as well as South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Millions of families are facing starvation, and this Global Emergency Response Coalition will use the Hunger Relief Fund donations to help those already going hungry as well as to lay the groundwork for recovery. The appeal lasts through July 28, 2017. For more information and to donate to the Hunger Relief Fund, please visit: https://www.globalemergencyresponse.org/.

ENDS

Notes to editors: 

Footage available at: link to be provided 

Figures of previous cholera outbreaks taken from the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory data repository 
http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.175?lang=en 

From 27 April to 18 July 2017, 362,545 suspected cholera cases and 1,817 deaths (CFR: 0.5%) have been reported in 91.3% (21/23) of Yemen governorates, and 88% (293/333) of the districts. http://www.emro.who.int/yem/yemeninfocus/situation-reports.html 

The largest outbreak since modern records began was in Haiti where the total number of cholera cases reached 754,373 between 2010 and 2015.

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