Seized by violence and teetering on the edge of famine, Yemen is
grappling with another danger that threatens to outpace them
"We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world,"
international health authorities said in a statement Saturday.
Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, and Margaret Chan,
director-general of the World Health Organization, say that
"more than 1,300 people have died — one quarter of them children
— and the death toll is expected to rise."
That's because they suspect Yemen now has upwards of 200,000
cases to grapple with, and that number is only growing quickly —
by a rate of roughly 5,000 cases a day.
"And geographically it is expanding," Mohamed El Montassir
Hussein, Yemen director for the International Rescue Committee,
told NPR's Jason Beaubien earlier this month. "It's not a small
area. It's almost the whole country."
"There is nowhere in the country you can say this place is
better than another," says Hussein. "Every family is suffering
from something whether it's cholera or lack of food, having
child soldiers in the family or having someone go join the
rebels or the military. There's been a whole collapse of the
After more than two years of civil war, Yemen's health care
system is at risk of "complete collapse," a UNICEF spokesman
The country has been roiled by violence since Houthi rebels
seized power and ousted the president, who fled to sanctuary in
neighboring Saudi Arabia. Since then, a Saudi-led coalition
supported by the U.S. has waged a protracted campaign against
the rebels — and some worry that support makes the U.S.
complicit in Yemen's deepening humanitarian crisis.
"There's a U.S. imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen
that's caused by the Saudi bombing campaign," Democratic Sen.
Chris Murphy of Connecticut told NPR's Michele Kelemen last
month after the U.S. signed a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
"The Saudis simply could not operate this bombing campaign
without us," he continued. "Their planes can't fly without U.S.
refueling capacity. They are dropping munitions that we've sold
them. We are standing side by side with them often when they are
reviewing intelligence about targets."
Saudi Arabia's new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman — who, as
NPR's Deborah Amos reports, is said to have been "the prime
mover in the kingdom's decision to go to war in Yemen" —
recently authorized a $66 million donation to support UNICEF and
WHO's anti-cholera efforts there.
"We look forward to discussing this contribution with the King
Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre," UNICEF responded in
a statement Friday. "Such generosity will make a great
difference to thousands of children at risk of contracting this
rapidly spreading disease."
Lake and Chan made clear Saturday just how rapid it's spreading
— and, in turn, just how rapid the response needs to be.
"We are working around the clock to detect and track the spread
of disease and to reach people with clean water, adequate
sanitation and medical treatment. Rapid response teams are going
house-to-house to reach families with information about how to
protect themselves by cleaning and storing drinking water," they
"We call on authorities in Yemen to strengthen their internal
efforts to stop the outbreak from spreading further."