Last week, I readan article in the New York Times,called It’s a Slow Death’: The World’sWorst Humanitarian Crisis. It talked about the recent cholera outbreak inYemen, which killed almost 2,000 people in three weeks and infected over500,000. Theauthors have presented three critical graphs in this article.
The first one isa thematic map of cholera case density in Yemen. The map shows that westernYemen is the most heavily affected, several parts of which have reached aninfection rate of 300 per 10,000 people. In the second graph, a comparison ismade among the cholera outbreaks in different countries in the past 50 years,while Yemen mounted towards other largest outbreaks such as those in Peru(1991) and Haiti (2011). The third one is also a thematic map of areascontrolled by different military forces including Houthi-Saleh, Saudi-ledArabic coalition, and Al-Qaeda. As Houthi-Saleh has taken over western Yemen,the area has suffered greatly from Saudi-led air strikes, with heavy casualtiesas well as the destruction of infrastructure.From a geographicperspective, the areas with heaviest war destruction overlap tremendously withthose of high cholera infection rate, which strikes me as it resonates withdeBlij’s view of “the poorest and weakest on the planet are also thesickest”. While Yemen has long been the poorest country in the Arab world, theongoing civil war has ruined most of its basic infrastructure, includingtransportation system, hospitals, and sewage.
Poor hygiene provides a hotbedfor the cholera virus, which breeds inside the already malnourished people andis later aggravated by the shortage of medical care from both domestic andinternational providers. However, cholera is not a life-threatening disease indeveloped countries given proper sanitation and antibiotics. In other parts ofYemen, there is neither such high rate of infection. Therefore, by comparingspatially, it demonstrates that health conditions are largely affected by thegeographic variation in access to needs (clean water, food, sewage) and medicalservices (hospitals and medicines).
By comparing the current status with thepast, it is clear to tell that human activities can greatly change the humancharacteristics of a place, while violent conflicts in this particular casehave drastically worsened the living conditions of the local Yemenis people.So far, what Ilearned in this class has helped me develop a basic mindset of geography and Igradually get to understand the complexity of human geography as in howdifferent geographic components intertwine with each other and changesynergistically. In this case, the civil war made the country barelyfunctioning, which also triggered a series of changes: human health wasimmediately threatened; the economy ceased to develop; regional and nationalgap could actually be widened. In the era of globalization, when othercountries are moving rapidly forward, Yemen may stagnate for years while it issupposed to be “flattening”. As for the personalconnection, I have never been so immersed in the internal affairs of othercountries in the world before taking this class. However, now I can’t stopthinking of the poor Yemenis people, constrained by their country, with veryfew opportunities to change their lives, when I am receiving a high educationhere, enjoying the convenience of technology and embracing the abundance ofopportunities, which does not seem equal to me at all. This understanding of”the power of place” comes with such bitterness and I wish we may be able tochange it one day