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Saudi Arabia donates millions to end Yemen cholera outbreak it helped start

Saudi Arabia announced Friday it would donate $66.5 million to UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and other partners to help alleviate the cholera outbreak ravaging Yemen, but the kingdom and its coalition have played a major role in transforming a “preventable” cholera outbreak into a full-blown humanitarian disaster.

Since April, cholera has swept Yemen, infecting over 179,000 people, and killing one person every hour. Fueled by weakened health facilities, damaged civilian infrastructure, and narrowing humanitarian access, the number of confirmed cases are increasing by the thousands every day. UNICEF now estimates there will be over 300,000 cases by the end of August.


Health officials attempting to control Yemen’s outbreak believe the crisis could have been preventable, but was exacerbated by limited access to aid, crippled medical facilities, and damaged transport infrastructure that prevented sick people from seeking treatment abroad.

“This is because of conflict, it’s man-made, it’s very severe, the numbers are absolutely staggering, it’s getting worse,” said the U.N.’s humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, “[A]nd the cholera element in addition to the lack of food, the lack of medical supplies… Primarily one has to put that at the door of all the parties to the conflict,” O’Brien said.

The spread of cholera is one of many man-made catastrophes contributing to the world’s largest single-nation humanitarian crisis in the world. Over 10,000 people have died in the fighting between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition since the war began, in March 2015.

Though both warring parties share in the blame, the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes have contributed to a “disproportionate amount” of civilian casualties. Coalition strikes have also destroyed critical civilian infrastructure, like medical facilities, schools and markets.

Just last week, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike tore through a market in a northern province, killing 25 people, Reuters reported.

Most detrimental, however, has been the Saudi-led coalition’s ongoing blockades on critical port cities and airports.

The naval blockade on the Hodeidah port as well as the closure of the capital airport in Sanaa has severely restricted the flow of medical supplies, fuel, and the ability for sick or injured people to be flown out for treatment, according to a report by Save the Children. Before the war, 90 percent of supplies came through the Hodeidah port in western Yemen. But Saudi-led coalition airstrikes all but destroyed the port in February, badly slowing down deliveries into the country, including vital medicine and aid.

“With the right medicines, these [diseases] are all completely treatable — but the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is stopping them from getting in,” Save the Children’s interim country director for Yemen Grant Pritchard said in April.