Will Yemen’s storm yet prove disastrous?

Annie Slemrod

Middle East Editor

Powerful Cyclone Chapala unloaded the worst of its wind and rain on Yemen earlier this week, flooding large portions of its southeastern coast. The concern now is how the estimated 1.1 million Yemenis impacted by the storm will fare in the days, weeks, and months ahead, especially in a country already gripped by civil war and humanitarian crisis.

After one of the biggest storms to hit Yemen in decades, IRIN takes a look at what aid agencies and health professionals will be keeping an eye on:

Health

Yemen has a major water shortage – an estimated 80 percent of its citizens are thought to be using unsafe water for their daily needs – but years of rain in two days is hardly what it needs.

The dry hard terrain of Hadramaut and Shawbah provinces, which were hit the hardest, won’t be able to absorb the water, causing floods and the potential for standing water.

See: Health ‘time-bomb’ as Yemen runs dry

Doctor Ahmed Shadoul, the World Health Organization’s representative in Yemen, told IRIN that this stagnant water was a major cause for concern.

In the short-term, local hospitals and the WHO are on “high alert” for cases of diarrhoea, as well as hepatitis and eye infections. “These are the outbreaks that are expected in such situations,” Shadoul explained.

Longer term, in 10 days to two weeks, insects and mosquitoes will have time to grow in the water. If that happens, “we can then expect malaria or dengue fever,” Shadoul added.

WHO is sending out 100,000 chorine tablets on aid convoys and recommends that those in affected areas purify all water. Because of the war, nearly half of the country’s population already lacks access to healthcare, Shadoul said. The WHO and local authorities are readying mobile health teams and considering setting up field hospitals if necessary to deal with the cyclone’s aftermath.

Displacement and shelter

Approximately 36,000 people have been temporarily displaced by the storm – an even split between the mainland and the Yemeni island of Socotra – but accurate numbers are not yet available as communication is still patchy.

According to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, most people are taking shelter in schools, hospitals, government offices, and with host families. Others are reportedly in makeshift tents.

On Thursday, the UN was scheduled to dispatch a convoy carrying extra tarpaulins and other relief from Aden to Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramaut.

Due to months of conflict, there are already 2.3 million displaced people in Yemen. Airstrikes from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that is attempting to oust the Houthi rebels from power continued as the cyclone pummeled the coast.

OCHA’s current estimation is that 214 homes were wrecked and over 600 damaged on the mainland, with 400 more severely damaged on Socotra.

While it doesn’t have a full picture of the displacement or damage, Sebastian Rhodes-Stampa, senior humanitarian officer at OCHA Yemen, told IRIN the agency knew enough to launch an initial response – the UN, local partners and other NGOs are sending in water, hygiene supplies, and food as part of their first moves.

Another economic hit

Yemen’s economy is in a freefall thanks to its bloody civil war, and the cyclone will simply compound the problem.

“Folks will have lost fisheries,” said Rhodes-Stampa, giving an example of the sort of business and employment losses likely to emerge when the floodwaters subside. 

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that the heavy rains are likely to result in “favourable ecological conditions” for locusts that could last well into next spring. If not handled properly, the insects could pose serious threat to agriculture, including homegrown food and Yemen’s major cash crop, the narcotic qat plant.

To make matters worse, another tropical storm, albeit significantly weaker than Chapala, is headed for the coast.

See: Yemen's curse: civil war, bombs and now floods

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