Geneva, 21 June 2017 – Concurrent, killer cholera outbreaks in East Africa and Yemen are compounding famine risk in three countries, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned UN Member States today.
Speaking during a High-Level Panel on Famine in East Africa and Yemen during the opening day of the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment, IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy, warned that cholera was already diverting resources and focus away from efforts to treat malnutrition and widespread hunger.
“Right now, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff are working around the clock to stop the spread of cholera, and to treat people who are sick,” said Mr Sy. “But without treatment for malnutrition, more people will fall ill. And a child who survives cholera will be even further malnourished.
“It is the most vicious of vicious spirals, and the situation is rapidly escalating downwards and out of control.”
Earlier this year, the UN warned of imminent famine in South Sudan, North-East Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan are now grappling with escalating cholera outbreaks that have infected more than 220,000 people and killed nearly 2,100 since the beginning of 2017.
In Yemen alone, more than 166,000 cases have been reported since the end of April – a figure that is climbing by an average of 6,000 cases every day. In Somalia, there have been more than 51,000 cholera cases and nearly 5,000 in South Sudan. Although distinct, these outbreaks are all driven by a mix of similar factors, including severe food security that is itself the consequence of drought and conflict, and has triggered massive population movements.
Mr Sy urged states to increase their funding for humanitarian appeals in each of these countries.
He repeated his appeal for more investment in long-term solutions to tackle the structural issues that left communities vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. This includes, he said, investing in strong local capacity.
“Hunger kills in and of itself, but it kills to the nth degree when compounded by disease – and often completely preventable disease, like measles, malaria, and cholera,” said Mr Sy. “It is likely that between a quarter and a half of the excess mortality during food crises is due to these diseases. And well over three-quarters of victims are under five years old.”