Oxfam calls for Yemen ceasefire to allow for bigger humanitarian response, warning cholera likely to worsen with the rains

Published: 30th June 2017

Yemen’s cholera outbreak could spread quickly to thousands more people with the new rainy season likely to begin in the coming days. The international community must redouble efforts to broker a ceasefire so that more aid can be delivered to more people and in safer circumstances. 

More than 1,500 Yemenis have died from cholera since the start of this epidemic and many more are now at risk, already weakened by hunger and the effects of the ongoing war. More than 200,000 Yemenis now have suspected cholera. Humanitairan agencies fear this could increase to 300,000 or even beyond by August.

Oxfam will send an aid flight today (June 30) from its UK warehouse with 39 tonnes of water and sanitation equipment worth $470,000. The final shipment will also include tents from its Karachi operations and Watersaver sachets from Johannesburg. Oxfam has already provided water and sanitation assistance to more than 418,000 people, including distributing hygiene kits and, via community outreach, advising people about the importance of hand-washing and water treatment. 

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, said: “Yemen is on its knees after two years of war. For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow.

“Civic workers have not had their salaries and many people have lost jobs and livelihoods in a local economy that has been devastated. Yemenis have lost what little resilience they had to cope with this “triple threat” of hunger, disease and insecurity. Governments that are arming the parties to this conflict are complicit in every civilian death from war, hunger and now disease. 

“The war in Yemen could not be better designed to harm as many ordinary people as possible, as fundamentally as possible. It is hard to imagine how much more Yemen can take before it collapses entirely.”

War has had a crippling effect on Yemen’s people, their livelihoods and their infrastructure. Almost 5,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting and parts of the country are on the brink of famine. An estimated 18.8 million people now require humanitarian assistance including food, safe drinking water and sanitation; 10.3 million are in acute need. Waste is piling up on the streets and in the settlements of displaced people because sanitation services, severely damaged by the two-year war, cannot cope. Aid agencies doing water and sanitation work are in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak. 

Health, water and sanitation systems have been bombed to the point of collapse, allowing disease to spread more easily around weakened people. Around 30,000 front-line local health workers have not been paid for 10 months and, due to the huge humanitarian needs, local ministries have struggled to track the spread of disease.

Meanwhile, the world is selling more in arming the Saudi military than it is spending on Yemen’s humanitarian appeal. In 2016, Saudi Arabia spent $2.979 billion on arms transfers from the world’s major arms exporters. As of this month, many of those same governments had given just $620 million toward the $2.1 billion UN appeal for Yemen. Byanyima said, “it is unconscionable that the value of arms sales is outstripping the humanitarian effort almost five-fold.” 

Contact information

Matt Grainger, Head of Media, matt.grainger@oxfam.org, +44-1865-780128 (office), +44-7730680837 (mobile)

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