UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Top United Nations officials on Wednesday slammed the warring parties in Yemen and their international allies for fueling an unprecedented deadly cholera outbreak, driving millions closer to famine and hindering humanitarian aid access.
Since the end of April, the World Health Organisation said there have been more than 320,000 suspected cases of cholera - a disease that causes uncontrollable diarrhea - and 1,742 deaths across more than 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula country.
U.N. aid chief Stephen O‘Brien told the Security Council on Wednesday the toll was likely much higher as aid workers could not reach remote areas of the impoverished, war-torn country.
“This cholera scandal is entirely man-made by the conflicting parties and those beyond Yemen’s borders who are leading, supplying, fighting and perpetuating the fear and the fighting,” O‘Brien said.
He called on the 15-member Council to “lean much more heavily and effectively on the parties and those outside Yemen” to end the conflict and humanitarian crisis.
A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels. The country, which relies heavily on imports for food, has become one of the U.N.’s top humanitarian crises.
“Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished children - of whom 500,000 are severely malnourished under the age of five - are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death,” he said.
U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Graziano da Silva said there had already been reports of people dying from hunger in some areas of Yemen and complained about a lack of funding and access.
“We simply cannot act where we are most needed,” he told the council.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the council the outbreak was “being driven by conflict, the collapse of the basic public services and malnutrition.”
He said the WHO and the U.N. Children’s Agency UNICEF were supporting more than 600 treatment centers and rehydration points in Yemen and planned to open another 500 centers but there was a shortage of doctors and nurses.
Yemen’s economy has collapsed and 30,000 health workers have not been paid for more than 10 months, so the United Nations has stepped in with “incentive” payments to get them to help with the fight against cholera.
U.N. Yemen mediator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council a Saudi donation of $67 million had helped slow the cholera spread and called on other donors to step up.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish