Yemen in the time of cholera

A girl lies on a bed at a hospital where she is receiving treatment for cholera. (Reuters)

We cannot ignore or underestimate the World Health Organization warning on the rising cases of cholera in Yemen. It adds to the misery of a country, which is already passing through its worst crisis in half a century.

A UNICEF representative in the country said the organization warned of the threat of famine even before war erupted. International organizations have also warned in the past of the threats of famine and outbreak of diseases owing to the lack of water suitable for human consumption.

The situation in Yemen has been bad in the past but seems to be disastrous today. This has coincided with the fall of the capital, Sanaa, at the hands of militias. There is no administrative system that international organizations can count on to understand the humanitarian situation and deliver food and medical supplies.

Cholera cases require collective action. Once the disease is detected, it must be prevented from turning into an epidemic that threatens the safety of millions of residents. Efforts should be made to prevent it from spreading so much that international organizations cannot manage. Cholera and other such diseases take roots due to the inhuman conditions Yemenis find themselves in during the ongoing war.

Lack of infrastructure

They’ve already experienced lack of medical and other supplies during the era of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who ruled for four decades but never developed the country’s infrastructure. During his time in power, Yemen lived off government aid and benefitted from the generosity of organizations which visited Yemen annually to provide vaccines and operate mobile field hospitals.

The situation became more difficult when the war erupted especially in areas occupied by rebels, particularly the Houthis, who prevent aid organizations from delivering aid. The legitimate government controls more than one third of the country and the situation in these areas is better thanks to the supplies which the Saudi and UAE governments continue to provide.

Yemen is passing through a humanitarian crisis that escalates with time and requires everyone to perform their humanitarian duties without any discrimination

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

But what can be done for the millions of Yemenis who are disconnected from the world in areas controlled by Houthi militias, and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh? Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options and the best solution may be to refer the activity of aid institutions to organizations affiliated with the UN and to other international organizations acceptable to both the parties.

Since it is all about humanitarian relief, donors will not discriminate even though it might not be an easy task. Someone involved in the military work on the ground told me recently that the Houthis, in particular, have always prevented aid convoys who came from outside Yemen from entering. According to him, nothing can be done about this.

I asked him if the Houthis do so in order to bargain. But he said he could not understand their justifications because preventing these convoys does not benefit them much as there is nothing to bargain over and the situation was entirely different from prisoner swaps. He added that the Houthis are not concerned about treatment to those suffering and that it may be due to mere ignorance of their duties as set by the rules of international engagement.

He also noted that areas which suffer the most are those which stood up to Houthis and which it managed to control. “They punish these areas by preventing them from communicating with others and by starving them,” he said.

State of deprivation

Many areas in Yemen have been deprived as a result of the war and due to the bad economic situation which has lasted for years. Yemen is passing through a humanitarian crisis that escalates with time and requires everyone to perform their humanitarian duties without any discrimination. Yemen is a brotherly country and a neighbor and our responsibility toward it is immense.

It is the Yemenis’ misfortunate that they got rid of an old and unjust regime only to fall in the grip of merciless militias. All this absurd war could have been avoided if they accepted the political system the rules for which were set by the UN and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and which gave everyone the right to participate in governance.

Unfortunately, the deposed president succeeded at sabotaging the new system in order to prevent anyone from ruling after him, and the Houthis allied with him out of their sheer greed for power. Despite this, the world has no choice but to work collectively to end this tragedy by providing help to millions of Yemenis who are threatened by famine and diseases.

This article was first published Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 27, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

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