Mohammed Al Qalisi
June 9, 2015 Updated: June 10, 2015 12:31 AM
An armed tribesman loyal to Houthi militia inspects a destroyed house of a Yemeni army commander after it was allegedly hit by airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Hamdan district on June 9, 2015. According to local reports, airstrikes by the coalition targeted the Houthi-held defence ministry and a house of a Yemeni army commander allied with the Houthi militia. Yahya Arhab/EPA
Sanaa // Thousands of Yemenis have been struck down by dengue fever and malaria due to a chronic shortage of fuel and prolonged electricity outages.
Doctors in Hodeidah province say the number of cases in recent weeks from the mosquito-borne diseases are double that of previous years.
Hodeidah has been spared from much of the fighting between Houthi rebels from the north and forces loyal to President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, but as one of Yemen’s poorest regions, it has suffered greatly from the power outages affecting the nation.
With less than two hours of electricity available each day, and a shortage of fuel to run generators, the lack of air conditioning and fans has left the population more exposed to mosquitos than in previous years, health officials said.
Dr Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of Hodeidah’s health authority, said the diseases usually spread in the hot weather during summer. However, the electricity outages this year had led to twice as many cases than usual.
He said during the last three months, they had dealt with 19,406 cases of dengue fever and 19,666 people with malaria. Five of the dengue victims had died while three of the malaria cases had been fatal. Hodeidah, which sits on the Red Sea coast and is home to Yemen’s second largest port, usually has the highest cases of dengue and malaria in the country.
A lack of clean water means people often store their water in containers and without proper covers which provides a perfect breeding ground for the mosquitos.
Dr Jarallah said most of the victims they have seen in recent months have come from the province’s poor rural areas where the quality of housing is also very low.
“The poverty leaves people more vulnerable to the mosquito that carries the diseases,” he said.
Dr Adnan Al Maqtari, who works at a large state hospital in Hodeidah city, said with temperatures now reaching 40°C combined with the electricity and fuel shortage, the diseases would continue to spread.
He said those already suffering from illness and those over 40 years old are more likely to be infected.
The tough summer environment has led to some of those who have contracted dengue to travel from the relative peace of Hodeidah to the capital Sanaa, which has many of the targets of an Arab bombing campaign to unseat the Houthis.
Abdellatif Al Nijashi, a Hodeidah resident in his 60s, arrived in Sanaa on May 27 after he could no longer find fuel for his generator and the summer heat became unbearable.
“I prefer to live in Sanaa within the airstrikes than Hodeidah,” he said. “The weather in Hodeidah helps the diseases to kill you gradually.”
While there is no direct treatment for dengue fever, Mr Al Nijashi said he had spent more than 200,000 Yemeni Rials (Dh3,400) on medicine but he had still not recovered. He was being cared for at the Al Thawra state hospital in Sanaa, and hoped the milder weather in the capital would help him to get better.
For some, just the fear of contracting the diseases led them to leave Hodeidah.
Ala’a Riyadh, 42, closed his shop in Hodeidah in late May and travelled with his whole family to Taez so that his children would be safe.
“I fled Hodeidah to save my children from the diseases that started to spread, and also to escape from the hot weather. We could not sleep, and we could not work — life in Hodeidah became very hard.
Salah Al Homaidi, the executive manager of the National Center for Freedoms and Development described the situation in Hodeidah as a humanitarian catastrophe.
“Most of the people in Hodeidah are poor and they could not buy the fuel from the black market to operate their generators, I call for the humanitarian relief organisations to rescue them,” he said.
He said the worst suffering was in the rural areas like Tehama where people could not get to hospitals for treatment.
“The first solution to the suffering of Hodeidah is to provide it with electricity, if the government or the humanitarian organisations could provide the governorate with electricity, the other problems will be solved,” Mr Al Homaidi added.