Yemen: Welcome to Hell

The country faces serious water issues and nearly 5,000 new cholera cases a day.

 In this Monday, May 15, 2017 file photo, people are treated for suspected cholera infection at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. The U.N. health agency and some major partners have agreed on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 to send 1 million doses of cholera vaccine to Yemen to help stanch a spiraling and increasingly deadly caseload in the impoverished country, which is already facing war and the risk of famine.

The cholera epidemic in Yemen is exploding with no end in sight. (HANI MOHAMMED/AP PHOTO)

Jeff Nesbit
was the National Science Foundation's director of legislative and public affairs in the Bush and Obama administrations; former Vice President Dan Quayle's communications director; the FDA's public affairs chief; and a national journalist with Knight-Ridder and others. He's the executive director of Climate Nexus and the author of more than 24 books. His next book, "Poison Tea" with Thomas Dunne Books at Macmillan (April 5), chronicles the secretive, 20-year alliance between the world's largest private oil company and the planet's largest tobacco companies to systematically build the Tea Party movement. He may be reached at

Yemen looks an awful lot like Hell on Earth right now – and virtually no one in the United States seems to know about it, or much less care.
Nearly every single one of Yemen's major water aquifers have run dry, which was the real root cause of the government's collapse. Water riots were already causing massive civil unrest long before the country's leadership looted the banks.
As a result of the ensuing military chaos, civilian casualties have been rising for months on end. Hundreds of thousands are facing starvation. Saudi-financed or Saudi-led military incursions in the region to keep its own southern border free of conflict have exacerbated the problems, and quite naturally fomented radicalism and terrorism that could spread worldwide.
And now yet another horseman of the Apocalypse rides through Yemen – the world's worst cholera outbreak has erupted. There are now more than 200,000 cholera cases in the country, with 5,000 new cases daily.
Health officials haven't been paid in Yemen for nearly a year. The world's NGOs try to help - but they are facing a collapse of the global humanitarian system as President Donald Trump tries to demolish America's contribution to efforts coordinated by the United Nations.
Even as Yemen falters under the weight of climate-confounded water scarcity, civil war, starvation and now cholera, Trump has decided that the way forward is to bulldoze U.N. humanitarian aid, throw his financial support behind Saudi Arabia's military strategy in Yemen, and starve humanitarian efforts that are Yemen's last chance. His initial budget proposal to Congress contained massive cuts in U.S. contributions meant for precisely the sorts of humanitarian aid the war-torn country desperately needs.
Trump is attempting to design a new global hegemony that could ultimately be responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people. It is built upon a willful ignorance of the science of climate impacts and its interconnection with global public health threats such as cholera outbreaks. It also illustrates a fundamental blind spot for the way in which diplomacy and humanitarian efforts actually forestall the use of American military might abroad.
Trump's crusade to meet humanitarian desolation with military force is breathtaking in its simplemindedness. It is also wrong – and will ultimately cause trouble inside America. Europe's leaders, for instance, understand all too well what happens when millions are forced to become refugees from their homeland. Terrorism ultimately does not respect borders – no matter how many bans are imposed or how high you build a wall to keep intruders out.
Yemen will be ground zero for the new world order the president is trying to impose by collapsing global humanitarian cooperation and replacing it with bilateral military partnerships with countries such as Saudi Arabia. The impact of America's isolation from the global community will be apparent in the response to the cholera epidemic in Yemen. More than 1,000 people have already died. Without U.S.-led humanitarian aid to the region, many more will. Period.. U.N. officials say 20 of the 22 governorates (similar to U.S. states) in Yemen are affected by the epidemic.
"We see that the numbers are going up, it's really trying to race against the spread and try to get treatment and water and sanitation measures to every corner, especially to those corners that are basically exporting the bacteria to other places," Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, said during a briefing earlier this month on the epidemic.
Less than half of Yemen's health facilities are now fully functional, U.N. and WHO officials said. Health workers at these facilities haven't aren't being paid. A third of the drugs coming into the country to treat the cholera epidemic are knock offs that are fake and don't work.
Although cholera can be treated quickly if it's caught early, the military conflict in the region makes it exceedingly difficult to find and treat so many cholera cases quickly, the U.N. and WHO officials said. It is a recipe for certain devastation.
WHO says it needs $66 million added to its health, water, sanitation and hygiene partners on the ground to deal with the epidemic. Without U.S. contributions to the United Nations, however, U.N. and WHO partners trying to deal with the epidemic on the ground in Yemen are bracing for a collapse in humanitarian aid.
Virtually no one in America will see this play out.
The rare times when American news audiences see or hear about places such as Yemen is when they cover Trump extolling his $100 million military aid package to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the death toll in Yemen continues to mount, as American abandons its leadership role in global humanitarian efforts. Even if Congress ultimately says "no" to Trump's request for America to walk away from its commitment, it will be far too late for cholera victims in Yemen.
But with the way things are going, it's unlikely even then, anyone in the U.S. will even notice.

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