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Yemen Water Crisis and Cholera Outbreak

Cholera spreads in Yemen following the disruption of its public health sector, water security, sanitation and hygiene services.

Africa - Socio Economic - Format: PDF - Size: 579.37 KB - Date: Apr, 2018 - Pages: 4 - Copyright: NATO Strategic Direction South HUB - Tags: Policy, MENA, North-Africa

The Republic of Yemen, a country located in a dry and arid region of the Middle East, was already struggling with a severe water crisis before the current armed conflict. Disruptions of the public health system, together with collapsing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are worsened by the armed conflict and blockade to the country. In this environment, cholera, which is spread mostly by unsafe water and unsafe food, appears as an epidemic affecting thousands and aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The conflict, the humanitarian needs and the cholera outbreak are clearly interlinked. The study of these links is beyond the scope of this product.


Yemen is a country with one of the highest rates of population growth in the world. Unlike other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, it has no rivers and depends on rainwater as well as underground water. Yemen's water shortage is far worse than that of any other country in the Middle East. It is also the country with the highest rate of exhaustion of water sources in the region.

Surface water is considered to be an important source for irrigation in Yemen. Surface water consists of seasonal spate water and springs, with differing quantity and quality depending on the area. This source of water is less affected by drought and other natural and geographical factors. Surface water in Yemen is estimated to be about 1,500 m3.

Key Findings 

  • Humanitarian crisis figures in Yemen: estimated 17.8 million are food insecure, 16 million lack access to safe water and sanitation, and 16.4 million lack access to adequate healthcare. In addition, as a result of the ongoing armed conflict, 9,000 deaths have been reported, with around 50,000 people injured and over three million people forced to flee from their homes.
  • Education has been disrupted and two million children are out of school. The discontinuation of the payment of teacher salaries has created an education crisis, risking a generation of illiterate children if no mitigation measures are put in place.
  • In the current armed conflict in Yemen, water plays a significant role: 13 million Yemenis (50% of the population) struggle daily to find or buy enough clean water to drink or grow food. This lack of clean water triggers many health problems such as cholera and diphtheria. 
  • Cholera is spread mostly by unsafe water and unsafe food that has been contaminated .The risk of death among those affected is usually less than 5% but may be as high as 50% it is not treated.
  • In October 2016 a cholera outbreak was declared in Yemen. In 2017 resurged, and between April and November 2017 there have been 900,000 suspected cases and 2,192 associated deaths.
  • In addition to the cholera outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in January 2018 that 48 diphtheria-related deaths had been recorded and 610 suspected cases have also been reported across the country.
  • Currently, 191 humanitarian partners are working in Yemen including 147 national Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's), 36 international NGO's and eight UN agencies.
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