An ongoing cholera epidemic ravaging war-torn Yemen is expected to at least double by the end of the year, marking the worst outbreak since the beginning of the Cold War, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Sunday.
The aid group predicted the more than 360,000 suspected cases of cholera would increase to over 600,000 by January, leaving one in every 45 Yemenis infected with the disease.
ICRC President Peter Maurer said the outbreak was a direct result of a civil war that has lasted for more than two years between a Saudi-led military coalition backed by the United States and Houthi rebels backed by Iran. He said the conflict has devastated the nation’s health system and crippled access to safe drinking water.
"The great tragedy is that this cholera outbreak is a preventable, man-made humanitarian catastrophe," Maurer said in a statement. "Further deaths can be prevented, but warring parties must ease restrictions and allow the import of medicines, food, and essential supplies and they must show restraint in the way they conduct warfare."
The report came as the number of Yemenis killed by the disease exceeded 1,800.
Cholera, a highly contagious diarrheal infection spread through water contaminated by human waste, can be efficiently treated with the immediate replacement of lost fluids. Without treatment the disease can kill even healthy adults within a few hours.
The international aid group Oxfam warned on Friday that Yemen’s rainy season beginning in July through September would accelerate the outbreak.
The United Nations announced last week that it was suspending plans to deploy one million doses of cholera vaccines to Yemen because the rapid spread of the disease and logistical challenges perpetuated by the war would make the effort ineffective.
The outbreak, which began in April, compounds an already troubling humanitarian crisis as millions face famine.
The war has left less than 45 percent of Yemen’s medical facilities operational and both warring sides have blocked aid groups from delivering desperately needed food and medical supplies.
A bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. Todd Young (R., Ind.) and Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), is pressing the Trump administration to assert its leverage over Saudi Arabia to compel the regime to allow humanitarian access into the country.
A Senate resolution introduced by Young in April urging President Donald Trump to address the crisis has yet to move. Trump has not yet commented publicly on the situation in Yemen.