Starvation, conflict and displacement threaten millions of people in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, but there is another looming nightmare: rising waves of epidemic disease, especially cholera, made worse by the constant movement of refugees seeking any kind of respite from chaos and mayhem.
Just how much more dire the situation can become may be known by the end of September, according to medical and relief experts, when seasonal rains in some of the afflicted nations make meager roads impassible, and further spread the water-born disease.
The same seasonal rains also bring rising incidences of other forms of watery diarrhea, as well as malaria, and there are reports of sporadic outbreaks of meningitis and measles.
The additional health hazards are placing further heavy strain on humanitarian resources that are already deeply inadequate to the massive challenge of aiding at least 30 million people suffering in and around the stricken countries with some 20 million—figures vary—in the direst need of assistance.
Moreover, the kind of money that the U.N. is asking international donors to provide is not rolling in. Of some $6.5 billion in humanitarian assistance, including funding for health emergencies, that the U.N. has asked for the four stricken countries, so far only about $3.45 billion has materialized, or only about 53 percent of the funding appeal.
The U.S. share of the funding so far is about $1.1 billion, or nearly a third of the money so far on the table.
Another problem: dealing with the disease epidemics seems beyond the capacity available to the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), which failed abysmally three years ago to deal rapidly with West Africa’s deadly Ebola crisis, in part because of its close ties with governments that sought to downplay the disaster.