Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis

The relentless conflict in Yemen continues to devastate the lives of civilians, following the breakdown of the latest ceasefire between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition.

The fleeting 48-hour truce ended without extension on the 21st November after both sides accused each other of violating the peace, and failed to reach a diplomatic agreement. This marks the latest in a series of failed UN and US-led attempts to end the violence and destruction that has ravaged the country since early 2015.

The war in Yemen has unleashed a humanitarian crisis of critical proportions, resulting in at least 10,000 deaths and displacing around 3 million people from their homes. Recent conservative estimates suggest at least 21.2 million people, or 82% of Yemen’s total population, are in need of humanitarian aid amid worsening food and water shortages.

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According to UNICEF some 1.5 million Yemeni children are suffering acute malnutrition or starvation, and millions of women and children must walk long distances every day to access the little clean water that is available. On top of this, rapidly spreading outbreaks of cholera and measles have put countless more lives in danger.

The humanitarian situation has been compounded by the imposition of an air and naval blockade by Saudi Arabia. This has restricted Yemen’s regular food and fuel imports, and crucially reduced accessibility for the numerous aid agencies attempting to deliver life-saving food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Saudi-led airstrikes have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law by targeting civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. A recent World Health Organisation survey found that just 45% of Yemen’s health facilities are fully-functional and accessible, while over half have been severely damaged or destroyed as a result of the conflict. Doctors and medical workers have repeatedly been driven out of hospitals due to safety concerns, and there is a desperate shortage of fuel for ambulances. The conflict has crippled Yemen’s health infrastructure and consequently restricted access to basic healthcare for millions of people in need.

As a consequence of these conditions, despite their best efforts, aid agencies and NGOs operating in Yemen – including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam and UNICEF – have been significantly hindered in their attempts to alleviate the anguish of Yemeni civilians.

Amidst such terrible suffering, it is vital for both sides of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians from harm. According to the UNHCR almost 181,000 people have fled war-torn Yemen to seek refuge in neighbouring countries; for those who have no means of escaping the violence, the future looks bleak unless a peaceful diplomatic solution can be reached.

Amy Simon 30/11/16

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