Surge in cholera outbreak kills 34 in war-torn Yemen – WHO

  • As Mexico fireworks explosion kills 14 in second incident in months

A resurgence of a cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen is believed to have killed 34 people in the past two weeks.

The World Health Organisation says 2,022 suspected cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) were reported between 27 April and 7 May.

Some 26,000 people have now been affected since October by the outbreak, which subsided over the winter.

The country’s health system and civilian infrastructure are collapsing after two years of conflict.

The WHO says fewer than 45% of health facilities are fully functioning, with almost 300 damaged or destroyed in fighting between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi – who is backed by a Saudi-led multinational coalition – and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.

More than eight million people also lack access to drinking water and sanitation.

A WHO spokesman said recent heavy rains had washed away piles of uncollected waste into wells and water sources. In addition, warmer weather is creating a favourable environment for the pathogens that cause cholera to spread.

Cholera is a water-borne disease that is transmitted through contaminated water and food. Symptoms include acute diarrhoea and vomiting. People ill with cholera can become very sick and, when it is left untreated, death can occur within hours.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has set up cholera treatment centres within five hospitals to isolate and treat patients presenting symptoms and is supporting other facilities, expressed fear that the local health authorities alone would not be able to deal with the surge in cases.

“We are very concerned that the disease will continue to spread and become out of control,” warned the charity’s head of mission in Yemen, Shinjiro Murata.

Mr Murata said humanitarian assistance needed to be scaled up urgently.

The WHO spokesman said preventing the spread of the outbreak was a high priority and that it was co-ordinating efforts “with all parties to ensure an effective and rapid response”.

The UN says more than 8,010 people – mostly civilians – have been killed and close to 44,500 others injured since the conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015.

The fighting has also left 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

In the meantime, an explosion at a fireworks warehouse in Mexico has killed at least 14 people, all but three of them children, in a poor Mexican village as it celebrated a religious festival.

The blast occurred Monday night in a rural area of central Puebla state, Diodoro Carrasco, a senior official in the state government, told the radio station Cinco Radio.

He said as many as 11 of the fatalities might be minors.

The explosion in the village of San Isidro, 170 miles (270 km) east of Mexico City, came during preparations for a religious festival on 15 May, the state government said.

It said the fireworks had been stored inside a home behind a church ahead of a May 15 religious celebration, and the firecracker that set off the explosion was launched by someone outside. The home was destroyed.

Eleven of those killed “were minors aged between four and 15”, the statement said.

Nine people were killed on the spot and five others died later in hospital.

The explosion left 22 people injured, including three children who were in serious condition, an official in the state governor’s office, Javier Lozano, told reporters.

“It is a tragedy. Most of them died due to the collapse of the building they were in,” he said.

“Most of them were killed by being buried.”

Army troops and government officials cordoned off the blast site as ambulances rush in to collect the wounded.

The state governor, Antonio Gali Fayad, who plans to visit the scene of the accident, expressed his condolences overnight Monday as the scope of the tragedy became clear.

Accidents involving the manufacture of fireworks are common in Mexico.

Last December, 42 people died and 70 were injured in a series of spectacular explosions at the country’s largest fireworks market, in the town of Tultepec outside Mexico City.

In that catastrophe, the sky filled with multicolored smoke as the San Pablito market echoed with the crack and thunder of exploding fireworks.

The market was filled with people shopping for Christmas and New Year’s festivities. It was reduced to smoldering ruins.

Survivors described hellish scenes of people on fire, including children, as they ran from the market.

Investigators believe a rocket exploded at that market and set off a chain reaction of other blasts.

Christmas and New Year’s parties in many Latin American countries often wrap up with a fireworks free-for-all.

The entire Mexican village of Tultepec has specialized in making fireworks since the 19th century.

The San Pablito market had been rocked by two explosions in the past: in September 2005, ahead of the Independence Day holiday, and again the following year.

Both incidents left dozens of people injured, but no fatalities.

The fireworks industry reports nearly $10m a month in revenue in Mexico.

Puebla government official Diodoro Carrasco insisted the industry “is perfectly well regulated”, in comments to television channel Milenio.

“What is very difficult to supervise is the transfer of the fireworks, whether they are stored correctly,” he said.

BBC with additional report from Guardian