According to researchers from the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), Saudi-led airstrikes and blockades are responsible for the ‘worst cholera outbreak in the world’. Currently, the cholera outbreak in Yemen is disproportionately affecting rebel-controlled areas, with eight out of ten deaths occurring in Houthi-controlled governorates. Caused by the bacteria found in water contaminated by faeces, cholera can be easily prevented by providing access to clean water and sanitation.

In order to analyse the spread of disease, the researchers combined WHO’s latest cholera data with maps showing the areas under both governmental and rebel control. Using this, it was found that 77.7% of cholera cases and 80.7% of deaths from cholera occurred in rebel controlled territories.

“Saudi-led airstrikes have destroyed vital infrastructure, including hospitals and public water systems, hit civilian areas, and displaced people into crowded and insanitary conditions. A Saudi-enforced blockade of imports has caused shortages of, among other things, food, medical supplies, fuel and chlorine, and restricted humanitarian access,” writes Jonathan Kennedy, Andrew Harmer and David McCoy of QMUL. “Both sides have been accused of disregarding the wellbeing of civilians and breaching international humanitarian law. But the government and Saudi-led coalition that supports it command far greater resources. As a result, Houthi-controlled areas have been disproportionately affected by the conflict, which has created conditions conducive to the spread of cholera.”

However, the Saudi-led coalition is not alone in its responsibility for the current health crisis. “Saudi Arabia is an ally of the UK and USA,” adds Kennedy. “American and British companies supply Saudi Arabia with huge amounts of military equipment and their armed forces provide logistical support and intelligence. This backing has made the Saudi-led airstrikes and blockade possible, and therefore the UK and USA have played a crucial role in creating conditions conducive to the spread of cholera.”

Although UNICEF and WHO did not assign responsibility in their June 2017 statement, they did acknowledge that the outbreak was caused by the civil war that began in 2015. Since then, the situation in Yemen has been described as the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Tabitha Watson

Image Credit: AAP

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