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Yemen decimated by Cholera, Hunger and War

Monday, July 17, 2017 8:01
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In Yemen, the cholera epidemic is out of control. It already affects 300,000 people while 1,700 Yemenis have lost their lives. The current epidemic is the culmination of a catastrophic situation, which includes a plunge into a war – for more than two years – since March 2015. Civil confrontation faces pro-government forces and Hutu rebels. This battle cannot be understood in its amplitude without taking into account the fact that powerful Saudi Arabia, as a proxy US actor, and Iran, also measure their forces in the poorest Middle East country. Riyadh leads a so-called coalition that supports the Sunni government and Tehran supports the Shi’ite rebels. The fatricidal struggle between Shiites and Sunnis is at the origin of the conflict. At this juncture, the civilian population is subjected to atrocious survival conditions. The displaced, who have had to leave their homes or be bombed to death, are counted by the thousands. Along with war, or because of war, the levels of malnutrition are very high. In April, the UN spoke of “the greatest crisis of hunger on the planet” – and how the infrastructure of the country, especially sanitation, is destroyed. “Land for cholera”, explains Roger Gutiérrez, intervention coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Abs, Yemen’s rural district most affected by the epidemic. Gutierrez spent seven months in the area putting up the MSF hospital bombed by the US-led coalition and warning that cholera “is out of control.” The latest figures, provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, are 300,000 people affected and 1,700 dead due to the rampant epidemic. Cholera is a disease caused by a virus found in contaminated water. Its treatment is simple and with surprising results – hydration of the patient who can lose 25 litrers of fluids daily as a result of diarrhea and vomiting – but, similarly, if not treated, the mortality rate is very high. One in two people dies if they do not receive treatment. The symptoms are very acute and the intervention should be immediate. “It is urgent to have more means and dedication to eradicate the disease,” warns the coordinator of MSF for which the Yemeni situation is, at the moment, the “worst humanitarian crisis” in the world. His opinion is supported by figures: more than 19 million people or 70% of the population are in need of help. “The levels of malnutrition,” warns Gutierrez, “are unprecedented.” As for cholera in particular, it is necessary to increase the supply of drinking water and sanitation activities. MSF explains that it is precisely the lack of water and the poor state of the pipeline system and drains that are facilitating the spread of the disease. The communities most affected are those living in remote areas, forcing those affected to travel tens of kilometers to the nearest health center. In addition to caring for patients, it is necessary to have people’s homes disinfected and water supplies be chlorinated. “Potable water distribution points should be set up,” he adds, “and places where people gather, such as markets and bus stations, should be disinfected regularly.” Apart from cholera, MSF teams have detected a significant increase in the number of emergency consultations, many for children, and surgical interventions. Outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and malaria, diseases supposedly eradicated, have reappeared again. “It is a clear sign that the Yemeni health system, suffering from lack of resources and personnel, is collapsed,” according to MSF. The country’s health officials, some of whom do not charge, are making efforts to continue serving their fellow citizens at the height of the crisis, but the effort is not enough at the moment. Meanwhile, those responsible for inciting war and conflict among locals are not held responsible for their crimes against Yemen. The United States just agreed to provide the Saudis with a large cache of weapons, which will be sent to Yemen, where the US and Iran iron out their differences on a “neutral” battlefield, just as the US and Russia did in Afghanistan, Cuba and now in Syria.

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