Red Cross warns of impending disaster in Yemen

Scarcity of medical facilities in additionto to food shortages reaching dangerous levels

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is catastrophic with every family affected by the conflict, International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer said on Tuesday.

“The people are facing immense hardship. And it is getting worse by the day. The world needs to wake up to what is going on,” he said.

Following visits to the rebel-held capital Sana'a and loyalist-conquered Aden, Mr Maurer warned that the Saudi Arabia-imposed blockade and "intense fighting" were having a "dramatic impact on healthcare".

Facilities had been “attacked and suffered collateral damage”, the flow of medical supplies had halted, fuel shortages prevented equipment from working, and insecurity meant vaccination campaigns could not be conducted.


Healthcare crisis

“Yemen is crumbling . . . there must be free movement of goods into and across the country. Deliveries of food, water and medicine should be facilitated,” Mr Maurer declared.

About 25 per cent of healthcare facilities function partially or not at all, World Health Organisation spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. Health workers had fled and "shortages of power and fuel have [closed] intensive care units and operation rooms in almost all hospitals".

The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontièreswarned that months of indiscriminate air strikes against civilians and healthcare workers, and an embargo that blocked basic necessities, had created “a humanitarian disaster”.

MSF teams have treated 10,600 war wounded. Thierry Goffeau, project co-ordinator in Aden, said the Sadaka hospital where MSF doctors worked was near the frontline, its windows covered by metal plates to deflect bullets and shell shrapnel.

Other local hospitals were at times overwhelmed and “had to close their doors”. Dr Goffeau said he had practised in many hospitals during the last decade but Yemen was “by far” the most difficult situation.

Since US-backed Saudi-led coalition forces backing exiled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi launched an aerial offensive against Shia Houthi rebels in March, 4,000 people – at least half of them civilians – have been killed, 19,000 injured and 1.3 million displaced.

Nearly 13 million, of the population of 24.4 million, lack basic food items and 850,000 children face acute malnutrition.

‘Deliberate starving’

UN envoy

Hilal Elver

said: “Sieges in a number of governorates . . . have prevented staple food items . . . from reaching the civilian population, while air strikes have reportedly targeted local markets and trucks laden with food items. The “deliberate starvation of civilians” might be a war crime, she stated.

Saudi-trained Yemeni fighters, tribal gunmen, Sunni fundamentalist militias, and 1,500 United Arab Emirates troops have been deployed in the south where they have captured Aden and three other southern provinces and are advancing toward Taez, southwest of Sana’a.

State of play

The capital was seized in September by Houthi rebels seeking reform and an end to corruption. An infusion of pro-government fighters, modern equipment and sustained bombing have caused recent Houthi reverses.

However, Houthi forces bolstered by regular army units loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh remain in control of most of North Yemen, a formerly separate country that united with the south in 1990 under the leadership of Mr Saleh.

He has taken a defiant line against the Saudi intervention on behalf of Mr Hadi, his former deputy who assumed the presidency in 2012.

Mr Saleh castigated the new Saudi leadership for becoming “an aggressor against our Yemeni people” following the death of King Abdullah in January.

An initial aircraft of Yemeni refugees have been flown from Jordan to Aden, a shattered city without regular water and electricity.

Their journey was paid for by Mr Hadi’s Saudi-financed government which hopes to project a degree of normalcy in areas under its control by repatriating refugees.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times