Saudi-led coalition responsible for 'worst cholera outbreak in the world' in Yemen - researchers

by Matthew Ponsford | @mjponsford | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 18 August 2017 22:30 GMT

A woman helps her son as he lies on a bed at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

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More than half a million people have been infected with cholera since the epidemic began four months ago

By Matthew Ponsford

LONDON, Aug 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The majority of deaths from Yemen's cholera outbreak have occurred in rebel-controlled areas cut off from supplies due to airstrikes and blockades by a Saudi-led military coalition, according to research published on Friday.

The study by London's Queen Mary University found eight out of 10 cholera deaths took place in regions controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have fought a two-year war against Saudi-aligned forces backing Yemen's government.

Yemen is battling against the "world's worst cholera outbreak", according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

More than half a million people have been infected with cholera since the epidemic began four months ago and almost 2,000 people have died, the WHO said on Monday.

"Saudi-led airstrikes have destroyed vital infrastructure, including hospitals and public water systems, hit civilian areas, and displaced people into crowded and insanitary conditions", Jonathan Kennedy, Andrew Harmer and David McCoy, the study's researchers, wrote.

The Saudi ministry for foreign affairs did not immediately respond to written questions or telephone calls.

Yemen's devastating civil war has pitted a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia against an Iran-backed armed Houthi group, and economic collapse has made it difficult to deal with disease outbreaks such as cholera and mass hunger.

The study compared data from the WHO with maps of government-controlled and rebel-controlled areas.

The researchers found 78 percent of cholera cases and 81 percent of deaths from cholera occurred in Houthi-controlled regions. Only 10.4 per cent of deaths occurred in government-controlled areas.

The researchers said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for the deadly outbreak, by causing shortages of food, medical supplies, fuel and chlorine, and restricting humanitarian access.

Each day there are more than 5,000 new cases of cholera, which causes acute diarrhoea and dehydration, in Yemen where the health system has collapsed after more than two years of war, according to the WHO.

Cholera, spread by ingestion of food or water tainted with human faeces, can kill within hours if untreated. It has been largely eradicated in developed countries equipped with sanitation systems and water treatment.

(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)