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UN: 150,000 Yemen Flood Victims at Risk of Deadly Disease Outbreaks

By Lisa Schlein May 02, 2020

The United Nations says torrential rains and flooding have affected nearly 150,000 people throughout Yemen, causing serious damage to vital infrastructure and exposing thousands to potentially life-threatening disease outbreaks.

U.N. agencies say the rains, which have been ongoing since mid-April, have damaged houses and shelters, rendering thousands homeless. Flood waters have washed out roads and bridges, contaminated water supplies and knocked out electricity and other vital services.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says conditions are particularly harsh for thousands of families already displaced by conflict, who have lost shelter, food rations and household supplies.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke told VOA many people are at risk of getting ill or dying from disease outbreaks, which thrive in flooded, unsanitary conditions.

"Water-borne disease such as cholera or vector-borne, such as malaria because the stagnant water after the flooding is a breeding ground for mosquitos. So, getting rid of the water as fast as possible is very important and, of course, providing clean drinking water for the families who are there already," he said.

Laerke said more than 110,000 cases of suspected cholera have been recorded across Yemen since January.

Yemen's civil war, which is in its fifth year, has taken a heavy toll in lost lives and has shattered the country's socio-economic structure. The U.N. says 80 percent of the population, or 24 million people, are in need of international assistance. It calls Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Looming over the existing calamity is the threat of COVID-19. Laerke said so far only six cases of the disease have been confirmed in the country.

"But really, the setting there almost conspires to make this into a disaster if we start seeing widespread communal transmission of COVID-19. One particular issue here is really the massive funding problems in Yemen at the moment," he said.

Laerke said the U.N.'s humanitarian operation needs a significant boost in funding. Otherwise, he warns many programs critical to combatting COVID-19, such as providing clean water, sanitation and access to health care, risk being shut down in coming months.

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