Yemen cholera outbreak worst on record and numbers still rising, warns Oxfam

Yemen cholera outbreak worst on record and numbers still rising, warns Oxfam

Massive aid effort and ceasefire needed as rainy season approaches


Friday 21st July 2017

The number of people with cholera in Yemen is now the largest ever recorded in any country in a single year since records began, Oxfam said today. At over 360,000 suspected cholera cases in just three months since the outbreak started, it is now already the largest number of cases in a year, topping the previous annual record of 340,311 in Haiti in 2011.

Though there are signs that the increase in numbers is slowing, the country’s rainy season from July to September will increase the risk of the disease spreading further. It is feared that the total number of people infected could eventually rise to over 600,000, which would make it one of the largest outbreaks since records began in 1949.

Almost 2,000 people in Yemen have died from suspected cholera since late April this year and many more are now at risk, weakened by hunger, disease and the ongoing war.

Health, water and sanitation systems have been bombed to the point of collapse leaving over 15 million people without adequate access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation. Millions more are hungry and need help in getting a decent meal.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “Cholera has spread unchecked in a country already on its knees after two years of war and which is teetering on the brink of famine. For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow.

“This is a massive crisis needing a massive response – if anything the numbers we have are likely to underestimate the scale of the crisis. So far funding from the international community to pay for the aid effort has been lacklustre at best, less than half is what is needed.

“Cholera is easy to treat and simple to prevent. We need a massive well-coordinated effort to get clean water and decent sanitation to people and simple things like soap to keep them safe from disease. We need an end to country entry restrictions of supplies and people so that we can get on with the job.

“The war has left millions without the means to earn a living and forced three million people to flee their homes. It has precipitated a crisis which has left seven million people on the brink of starvation. And the war has destroyed or damaged more than half the country’s health facilities. All this is crippling efforts to tackle the cholera crisis.”

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 tackling the cholera crisis are in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the world's major arms exporters – which include the UK and US – are making more money from arming the Saudi-led coalition force than they are spending on Yemen’s humanitarian appeal. In 2016, Saudi Arabia spent nearly $3 billion on arms 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.

Oxfam is calling for an immediate cease-fire to enable a nationwide cholera campaign to tackle the disease unhindered by fighting and allow people to get their lives back together. It is calling for the opening of ports and Sanaa airport to allow a massive injection of aid and for the UN and aid agencies’ appeal to be fully funded.

Since July 2015 Oxfam has reached more than 1.2 million people across Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers. Oxfam is stepping up its efforts to tackle the cholera outbreak, sending 39 tonnes of vital water and sanitation equipment in late June.

Oxfam Ireland is also appealing to the public for vital funds for its hunger crisis response to support people facing famine in Yemen as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria:



For interviews, images or more information, please contact:

ROI: Alice Dawson on 083 1981 869 /

NI: Phillip Graham on 07841 102535 /


New video footage available on request.

Figures of previous cholera outbreaks taken from the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory data repository

From 27 April to 18 July 2017, 362,545 suspected cholera cases and 1,817 deaths (CFR: 0.5%) have been reported in 91.3% (21/23) of Yemen governorates, and 88% (293/333) of the districts. YEMEN: Cholera Outbreak Daily epidemiology update 19 July 2017 WHO

The largest outbreak since modern records began was in Haiti where the total number of cholera cases reached 754,373 between 2010 and 2015. 

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