Yemen on “verge of crisis” warn UN and aid groups

A Yemeni man inspects his house destroyed by Saudi airstrikes near the airport in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Violence in Yemen is hampering efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, warned the United Nations and aid groups this week. The separate releases from the groups urged groups in Yemen to stop immediately.

“A week of heavy airstrikes across much of Yemen, where more than 60 percent of the population are already reliant on aid, will result in food and fuel shortages and hasten Yemen’s descent into a worsening humanitarian crisis,” warned Oxfam in a press release.

The level of conflict has grown worse since March 23. Saudi Arabia inserted itself into Yemen’s civil war recently by lunching a military intervention – which includes airstrikes. And it may make matters worse.

The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the current situation in Yemen “alarming” in a recent statement.

“The killing of so many innocent civilians is simply unacceptable,” he said. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”

The fighting is taking a major toll on Yemeni citizens. More than 62 children were killed in the past week due to fighting, said the UN children’s agency. That is a part of the 361 deaths and 1,345 injuries recorded by the World Health Organization, the majority of which were civilians. Basic services from health to water to food have been disrupted by the fighting. But it is also keeping humanitarian groups from reaching people with needed supplies.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it cannot get medical supplies and health workers into the country. Heavy restrictions on seaports and the closure of major airports mean the MSF staff on the ground must respond to increasing injuries without the support they need.

“Very few humanitarian actors have stayed in the country, while the needs are actually getting greater, and so more supplies and human resources are required on the ground,” said Dounia Dekhili, MSF program manager for Yemen, to the press. “With the conflict continuing, the risk of facing a shortage of drugs and medical supplies is real. We need to be allowed to ship humanitarian assistance into the country by air, sea or land.”

The MSF-supported emergency wards in Al-Nasser Hospital and in Qataba admitted 67 wounded people in one week. The emergency ward of Haradh Hospital treated 34 people with wounds in one day, following an attack that took place this week. MSF has witnessed hundreds of people flee from their homes and dozens killed, in the past few days.

The Houthi militia and others have made significant advances against forces supporting President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Their control in the northern Saada Province spread south over the past year to the major cities of Sanaa, Aden and Taiz. An intervention by Saudi Arabia was meant to help beat back the militias, but there is little evidence it is doing anything more than increasing the number of injuries and deaths.

Nearly 15 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, estimates the UN. Aid programs helped decrease the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition by 16% in 2014. The already tenuous situation could be made worse if violence increases and humanitarian access declines.

Oxfam, like MSF, says its ability to respond to the humanitarian situation in Yemen has been made more difficult by the rise in fighting. It urged the international community to do more and fast in order to prevent things from getting worse.

“It is vital that supplies of food and fuel coming into Yemen are maintained to help those struggling to get clean water and enough to eat. International donors should increase their support at this critical time,” said Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen. “Failure to do so will result in a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding throughout the country. “

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.