UN agencies call for urgent intervention in Yemen amid cholera outbreak, malnutrition

Yemen on map [Photo Credit: Operation World]
Yemen on map [Photo Credit: Operation World]

The international community has been urged to redouble support for the people of Yemen as the country as a protracted political conflict has pushed the country into one of the the world’ largest humanitarian crisis.

This call was made on Wednesday in a joint statement by the heads of three United Nations agencies after their representatives visited Yemen to examine the scale of the humanitarian crisis and to step up assistance to the people.

UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake; the World Food Programme (WFP), Executive Director, David Beasley; and and World Health Organisation, WHO, Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, signed the statement.

Yemen is currently facing a cholera outbreak in the midst of one of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

In the last three months alone, 400,000 cases of suspected cholera and nearly 1900 associated deaths were recorded in the country, Mr. Lake said.

He said vital health, water and sanitation facilities have been crippled by more than three years of hostilities, and created the ideal conditions for diseases to spread.

“The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60 per cent of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from.

“Nearly three million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition. A vicious combination,” he added.

Mr. Beasley said at one of the hospital they visited, the children could barely gather the strength to breathe.

He said as they drove through the city, they saw how vital infrastructure, such as health and water facilities, have been damaged or destroyed.

“Amid this chaos, some 16 000 community volunteers go house to house, providing families with information on how to protect themselves from diarrhea and cholera. Doctors, nurses and other essential health staff are working around the clock to save lives,” he said.

Mr. Tedros also added that more than 30,000 health workers have not been paid their salaries in more than 10 months, but many still report for duty.

“We have asked the Yemeni authorities to pay these health workers urgently because, without them, we fear that people who would otherwise have survived may die. As for our agencies, we will do our best to support these extremely dedicated health workers with incentives and stipends.”

The three agencies’ heads also saw the vital work being done by local authorities and NGOs, supported by international humanitarian agencies, including their own.

The three agencies said they had set up more than 1000 diarrhoea treatment centres and oral rehydration corners.

According to the agencies, “the delivery of food supplements, intravenous fluids and other medical supplies, including ambulances, is ongoing, as is the rebuilding of critical infrastructure – the rehabilitation of hospitals, district health centres and the water and sanitation network,

“We are working with the World Bank in an innovative partnership that responds to needs on the ground and helps maintain the local health institutions,” they said.

The agencies’ heads, however, all agreed that there is hope.

“More than 99 per cent of people who are sick with suspected cholera and who can access health services are now surviving. And the total number of children who will be afflicted with severe acute malnutrition this year is estimated at 385 000.

“However, the situation remains dire. Thousands are falling sick every day. Sustained efforts are required to stop the spread of disease. Nearly 80 percent of Yemen’s children need immediate humanitarian assistance,” they stated.

They urged the Yemeni leaders, in Aden and in Sana’a, to give humanitarian workers access to areas affected by fighting and to also more than anything find a peaceful political solution to the conflict.

According to the directors, the Yemeni crisis requires an unprecedented response.

They said the three agencies have teamed up with the Yemeni authorities and other partners to coordinate activities in new ways of working to save lives and to prepare for future emergencies,

“If we fail to do so, the catastrophe we have seen unfolding before our eyes will not only continue to claim lives but will scar future generations and the country for years to come,” they added.

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