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World community must solve Yemen water crisis to halt spiralling cholera outbreak – UN experts

GENEVA (16 June 2017) – Yemen and the international community must act urgently to provide safe drinking water to halt a spiralling cholera outbreak, UN human rights experts have warned.

More than 135,000 people are already feared to have contracted the water-borne disease, as the country grapples with the ongoing conflict, which has led to the deterioration of water and sanitation infrastructure in Yemen. WHO figures show that more than 950 people have already died, and officials fear an extremely high death toll as the outbreak continues to spread.

“We welcome the efforts being made to mitigate the outbreak, but it is critically important to address the underlying problem of unsafe water supplies, which has a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to health by the population, in particular children and those in most vulnerable situations,” said Léo Heller, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, and Dainius Pūras, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on health.

“We urge all stakeholders to strengthen the initiatives to build and repair infrastructures and to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” the experts said.

The Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation warned that the lack of good quality, reliable drinking water forces people to get supplies from alternative, unsafe sources. “They are having to buy water from private sellers who use uncontrolled and unreliable sources, such as unprotected wells, exposing them to water-borne diseases such as cholera and other diarrheal diseases,” he said.

The experts added: “Children are at particular risk of contracting water-borne diseases from these unsafe supplies, although the whole population is vulnerable. The spread of cholera has been exacerbated by the breakdown of water and sanitation systems.”

The impact is being felt across the country, with reported cases in Taiz, Aden, Lahj, Al-Hudaydah, Hajjah, Sana'a, Al-Baida and Ibb governorates. 

Earlier this year, the Special Rapporteurs contacted the Government of Yemen to seek clarification about the situation. In April, UN experts urged an end to the conflict and blockade, warning that the deliberate starvation of civilians may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.


Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, appointed in November 2014. He is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and was previously Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014.

Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social paediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International relations and political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania.​

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Yemen

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Ahreum Lee (+41 22 917 9391 / ahreumlee@ohchr.org  or write to srwatsan@ohchr.org  

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