Yemen and the international community must act urgently to provide safe drinking water to halt a spiraling cholera outbreak, UN human rights experts have warned.
More than 135,000 people are already feared to have contracted the water-borne disease, as the country grapples with the ongoing conflict, which has led to the deterioration of water and sanitation infrastructure in Yemen. WHO figures show that more than 950 people have already died, and officials fear an extremely high death toll as the outbreak continues to spread.
“We welcome the efforts being made to mitigate the outbreak, but it is critically important to address the underlying problem of unsafe water supplies, which has a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to health by the population, in particular children and those in most vulnerable situations,” said Léo Heller, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, and Dainius Pūras, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on health.
“We urge all stakeholders to strengthen the initiatives to build and repair infrastructures and to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” the experts said.
The Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation warned that the lack of good quality, reliable drinking water forces people to get supplies from alternative, unsafe sources. “They have to buy water from private sellers who use uncontrolled and unreliable sources, such as unprotected wells, exposing them to water-borne diseases such as cholera and other diarrheal diseases,” he said.
The experts added: “Children are at particular risk of contracting water-borne diseases from these unsafe supplies, although the whole population is vulnerable. The spread of cholera has been exacerbated by the breakdown of water and sanitation systems.”
The impact is being felt across the country, with reported cases in Taiz, Aden, Lahj, Al-Hudaydah, Hajjah, Sana’a, Al-Baida and Ibb governorates.
Earlier this year, the Special Rapporteurs contacted the Government of Yemen to seek clarification about the situation. In April, UN experts urged an end to the conflict and blockade, warning that the deliberate starvation of civilians may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.