The long-suffering people of Yemen now have another horror to deal with as the highly infectious killer disease cholera is rapidly spreading throughout the country. The complete breakdown of public services means that garbage has stopped being collected, the water and sewage systems have become intermittent if not mingled, and the hospitals have long given up expecting to have enough medicine and other supplies to treat normal patients, never mind the victims of war, never mind the thousands of cholera sufferers.
Sana’a is the worst hit by cholera. Rebels there, under former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, hold sway but are unable to offer anything like normal government services.
The International Committee for the Red Cross says that the hospitals in Sana’a are totally unable to keep pace with new patients, with up to four people sharing a bed because there is nowhere else to house them. Some patients could not be treated in the packed hospital corridors and had to go outside for their IV drips, which they took sitting on parked vehicles in the parking area. By last month, cholera was starting to spread in northern Yemen, but by the start of this month, the World Health Organisation reported that more than 17,000 people had been infected and at least 200 have died so far, with many more deaths likely unless action is taken quickly.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial disease that can be quickly treated with antibiotics and rehydration, but such treatment is way out of reach for many Yemenis whose local services have collapsed and whose country is divided by a myriad of local forces that prevent, or harass, or steal from the convoys of medical (and other) supplies.
The real solution is for the warring parties to come to an agreement on how to build a peaceful and inclusive new Yemen and the particular responsibility for that lies with the leadership of Al Houthi rebels who have obdurately refused to accept terms of peace and have continued the fighting.
A quicker solution is for all parties, including Al Houthis, to recognise the importance of containing this epidemic and to allow convoys of medical and food supplies to pass freely.
If food and medical supplies fail to get through to the places where they are badly needed, the death toll is set to rise exponentially.