A savage war has been raging across Yemen for more than two years; much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed; and almost 15 million people do not have access to basic healthcare. A massive outbreak of the deadly disease, cholera, has swept across the country. It’s the largest and fastest epidemic of its kind ever to be documented in the world since record keeping began in 1949. More than 2,000 people have died since late April from the highly contagious bacterial infection, which can kill within hours if left untreated. There have been nearly a million suspected cases of cholera in Yemen and on average 5,000 new cases are recorded every day.
In the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now, public systems in Yemen have almost completely collapsed. In the north of the country, government employees, including healthcare workers and garbage collection labor force, have not been paid for almost a year. Rubbish piles up in the streets and festers with diseases. In rural Yemen, most people do not even have a toilet, let alone a sanitation system, and people’s waste pollutes village water supplies.
Cholera is spread through fecal bacteria in water. But most people living in remote areas of the country do not even know what cholera is, let alone how to prevent or treat it. So when I woke up one morning and many people in my village had suddenly contracted cholera during the night, I decided to do something to help. I started volunteering my time to educate people on how to prevent its spread.
With emergency funding from the Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF), Relief International (RI) has been able to quickly respond and establish emergency cholera treatment facilities to treat people suffering from de-hydration. RI partnered with a national organization, All Girls Foundation for Development (AGFD), who work tirelessly in the surrounding communities, distributing hygiene kits and educating people and raising awareness on how to stop the spread of cholera. Together, RI and AGFD are the only humanitarian actors operating in these areas and we’re saving the lives of more than 100 people every day.
I received training from AGFD and became one of their community volunteers. I help deliver awareness sessions in my community to improve people’s practices in their homes and stop cholera. Everyone shares the responsibility for preventing the spread of cholera by protecting our water supply from household waste. I immediately set to work making notices, which I started handing out to friends and family on the importance of collecting rubbish, burning or burying it, going to the toilet well away from rivers and other water supplies, and washing your hands with soap. I learned many of these hygiene practices from my training with AGFD and when I saw so many people listening to the awareness-raising sessions we delivered in my village, I was determined to make sure this knowledge led to lasting changes.