More than one million malnourished young children in war-torn Yemen are at risk of cholera, the charity Save the Children warned on Wednesday as it began sending more health experts to the worst-hit areas.
Cholera, which is spread by ingestion of contaminated food or water, can kill within hours if untreated.
The epidemic has already claimed close to 2,000 lives and the United Nations says nearly 80 percent of Yemeni children need urgent humanitarian assistance.
The organisation said children under the age of 15 are now accounting for about 44 percent of new cases and 32 percent of fatalities in Yemen, where a devastating civil war has been raging for more than two years, leaving millions on the brink of starvation.
“Yemen’s children are trapped in an almost unimaginable tragedy, they’re under attack from all sides,” said Caroline Anning, Senior Conflict Policy Advisor at Save the Children.
“Children are hugely malnourished. All across the country millions of children are too weak to stand up, too weak to go to school, dying of hunger.”
The civil war pitting Shiite Houthi rebels against Saudi-backed government forces has saddled what was already the Arab world’s poorest country with a major health crisis, damaging infrastructure and causing shortages of food and medicine.
“Forces fighting on the ground bear some responsibility because they make it much harder for us to deliver humanitarian aid but also the airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have damaged sewage plants, they have damaged hospitals and that has also created the spread of this epidemic,” said Anning.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced millions and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
Oxfam has projected the number of people infected with cholera could rise to more than 600,000 – the largest ever recorded in any country in a single year – exceeding Haiti in 2011.
Save the Children currently runs 14 cholera treatment centres and over 90 rehydration units across Yemen and is now scaling up its response.
The charity also said more than 425,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported across Yemen, with 1,900 deaths.