International donors must step up to prevent a cholera epidemic in war-torn Yemen from producing full-blown famine among hundreds of thousands of people, a UN official said Tuesday.
More than 313,000 suspected cases and 1,732 deaths are attributable to the outbreak since it erupted in April, said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Yemen.
Hard-pressed UN agencies are doing their best to stem the epidemic by diverting resources from food programmes, he told reporters in Geneva.
"We are very short of funding overall. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said by telephone, warning of a vicious cycle as people weakened by a lack of food become easier prey to cholera.
The collapse of Yemen's infrastructure after more than two years of war between the internationally-recognized government and Shiite militias who took control of the capital Sanaa and made it a "perfect storm for cholera", according to the World Health Organization.
Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water.
Although the disease is easily treatable, doing so in Yemen has proved particularly difficult. The war has left less than half of the country's medical facilities in working order.
McGoldrick conceded that the UN had underestimated the virulence of cholera's spread in Yemen, and confirmed that a programme of vaccination was being discontinued as the disease had outpaced it already.
He noted that much of the $1.1 billion (966,000 euros) in aid pledged by donor governments in April to deal with Yemen's overall humanitarian needs has yet to be disbursed.