Faced daily with ongoing and indiscriminate airstrikes targeted at civilians under siege, as well as fuel, food and water shortages, the population of Yemen is strained under immense suffering.
Returning after two weeks in Yemen, my colleague from MSF, Emergency Desk Manager Karline Kleijer, described the humanitarian crisis witnessed by our colleagues and teams on the ground.
“The amount of suffering and fear is enormous,” Karline told me. “Lives are interrupted, schools are closed, people are displaced, food is limited, jobs are lost and everybody fears injury and death. Hospitals are difficult to access and often lack staff, supplies and electricity.”
Since March 26, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have destroyed airports, seaports, roads, bridges, water tanks, gas stations and other vital infrastructure. Houthi attacks have caused heavy destruction of densely populated urban areas and loss of life.
These attacks include bombing of crowded markets and residential areas with mass civilian casualties. Between 2 to 7 July alone medical teams from MSF treated over 270 wounded people following a series of airstrikes and ground shelling in different parts of the country.
On 4 July airstrikes targeted a busy market at a time when people were preparing to mark the breaking of Ramadan’s fast. One of our MSF doctors, Dr Ammar, witnessed the aftermath. “We received so many severely injured people at one time. The whole team is shocked, especially since it happened to people enjoying an evening in Ramadan.” The timing of these attacks – during Ramadan – highlights an utter disrespect for civilians.
Displaced by the destruction of their homes or fear of being targeted, many Yemenis are living in make-shift camps with little access to clean water and medical services. Hospitals and health staff have been affected, hampering the capacity of the country’s healthcare structure to respond to the multitude of needs.
As if such ordeals were not enough, the Saudi-led coalition has also imposed a blockade that ultimately prevents vital imports, including food, medical supplies and fuel. While the medieval tactics of sieges and blockades remain a preferred strategy for military actors, it is the civilian population that suffers the disastrous consequences.
In Yemen, without fuel there is no water. In many cities water has to be drawn from deep wells, using pumps often powered by diesel fuel. Many health facilities have been forced to close when their generators ran out of fuel. Ambulances are unable to transport sick or injured patients to hospitals. Most of our patients arrive at hospitals on foot, having risked their lives to get there.
In Aden residents told us, “People are struggling to find water, food and medication. Communities have started fleeing in fear of epidemic diseases, infection, bad living conditions and bombings.” Due to the blockade, the price of medicine has spiked and children’s medication is absent from pharmacies, while shops may soon run out of food stocks.
This blatant disrespect for civilians and medical structures is a breach of international humanitarian law and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Governments and armed groups must exercise their responsibilities to ensure people are able to reach safety, and assistance is able to reach those who are trapped.
In the context of the Middle East, this requires states to acknowledge the role they have played, and continue to play, in the conflicts of the region. Support for either side of the conflict has serious consequences that make these states complicit in the unnecessary targeting and suffering of the civilian population.
For MSF the notion of ‘without borders’ is about implementing a radical neutrality by responding to needs wherever they may occur. In doing so, we brings medical assistance to people who need it by defying both physical and allegorical borders that result in people being denied access to life-saving care. MSF’s medical act is in solidarity with those of our patients who are defying siege by crossing borders or by finding ways to survive in the most unimaginable conditions.
Yet the lack of solidarity with the Yemeni people illustrated by the warring parties is unacceptable. In order to ease the provision of medical humanitarian services, and to guarantee the restoration of dignity for the people caught in this conflict, the blockade must end and civilians must be guaranteed access to essential services.
Find out more about MSF's work in Yemen.
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