Cholera ravages Yemen even as war rages

Developing Just Leadership

Catherine Shakdam

Ramadan 06, 1438 2017-06-01


by Catherine Shakdam (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 4, Ramadan, 1438)

If the Saudi-led war has pushed Yemen, Southern Arabia’s poorest country, well beyond the point of breaking, there was still one infamy its people had been spared, at least until now. That has changed dramatically and has now become an epidemic.

Cut off from the rest of the world as a consequence of an inhumane blockade imposed rigidly through American, British, and Saudi warships, Yemen last month witnessed an outbreak of cholera of such proportions that not even the corporate Western media could deny it. The last in a litany of sufferings imposed on its impoverished people, cholera now threatens to decimate Yemen’s communities with unprecedented virulence.

In an interview last month, the World Health Organization noted, “Yemen could have 3,000,000 cholera cases within six months, as [the] death toll rises to 242.” As cases of cholera and acute diarrhea rise across the country, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that the outbreak is threatening to spiral out of control should the international community remain deaf to Yemen’s pain.

But calls for humanitarian assistance have sounded hollow in the face of Saudi Arabia’s lust for blood and unabated violence. Riyadh’s insistence on prosecuting the war to fight terrorism — the bogey invoked by all predatory powers to justify their lust for war — has echoed loudest on the international scene, underpinned by the tens of billions of dollars the Kingdom has thrown at its partners-in-crime.

The United States of America, ruled by the narcissist moron Donald Trump, sits front and center, preoccupied only with the wealth that the Najdi Bedouins’ coffers hold, which has been promised to him. During his three-day visit to Riyadh (May 20–22), after signing an arms deal worth $110 billion with the Saudis — weapons the Saudis are incapable of using themselves because they are too incompetent — Trump described them as “beautiful” weapons. What is beautiful about weapons that kill innocent people, especially women and children?

“The number of suspected cases has more than doubled in the past five days, from 11,000 on May 14 to more than 23,500 on May 19,” noted WHO in a preliminary report to the media. Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population has confirmed that as of May 20, the disease had spread across 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates.

“The fast spread of the current outbreak is extremely alarming,” said Ghassan Abou Chaar, MSF’s head of mission in Yemen. “Before the outbreak, the health system was already overstretched and people’s health needs were already huge. To bring the outbreak under control, it won’t be enough simply to treat those people who reach medical facilities. We also need to address the source of the disease, by improving water and sanitation and working in communities to prevent new cases.”

On May 14 Yemen’s San‘a government, headed by the Resistance Movement, declared a state of emergency. The health ministry announced the measure saying, “…the number of casualties surpassed the normal rates, exceeding the capacity of the health system, which is unable to contain this unprecedented health and environmental disaster.”

It is important to note that this is the second outbreak of cholera in less than a year. Only a few medical facilities are still functioning and two-thirds of the population is without access to safe drinking water, the UN has said.

“What is happening today exceeds the capabilities of any normal health system, so how can we [cope] when we are in these difficult and complicated conditions,” Saba news agency quoted Mohammed Salem bin Hafeedh, Yemen’s health minister, as saying.

The health ministry after holding talks in San‘a with Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator, and other international officials last month, called on humanitarian organisations and aid donors to help it avert an “unprecedented disaster.” Experts in Yemen, however, are under no illusion that the international community will mobilize any form of aid relief since Riyadh has deployed every weapon at its disposal to frustrate Yemen’s ability to resist its war of aggression.

The latest crime in a long list of Saudi war crimes, Yemen’s ongoing brush with cholera serves only as a reminder of the depth to which the Kingdom is willing to stoop to impose its will on the region. Targeted for annihilation because it dared dream of being independent, Yemen is the victim of attrition whose brutality and systematic cruelty has yet to be matched.

The illegal war on Yemen launched on March 25, 2015 has had a serious impact on the country’s already weak health system. Following a series of air strikes and a well-orchestrated erosion of state institutions, many health facilities were forced to shut all activities leaving millions of already vulnerable Yemenis at risk. Adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia’s UN-manned blockade has resulted in acute shortage of medicines, including intravenous fluids and oral rehydration salts, both essential for the treatment of cholera.

Since May 14, MSF has called for import of medical supplies into Yemen to be facilitated, and for Yemeni medical staff to be paid incentives so that they can carry out their work. “With the imminent collapse of the public health system, UNICEF is taking on as much of the burden as possible, procuring essential drugs and vaccines, and covering basic operation costs such as electricity and fuel,” Rajat Madhok, UNICEF’s communication officer in Yemen said in an interview.

But for all the concern international NGOs have expressed, by way of solution little has actually been implemented on the ground. Again, if few people can deny today that Yemen has been left to die a painful death for its defiance of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi brand of imperialism, fewer still have attempted to remedy Yemen’s humanitarian crisis out of fear of antagonizing the Najdi Bedouins.

Using its petrodollars, Saudi Arabia has leaned so heavily on Western governments and Western-dominated institutions (the United Nations, for instance) that not even the sight of starving children and desperate communities has moved Western officials to outcry, let alone action.

Lured by petrodollars in Riyadh, politicians have chosen, as demonstrated by Trump, to engage in a ridiculous display of friendship with primitive savages rather than show some concern for innocent lives in a beleaguered Yemen.

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