In Yemen, a Humanitarian Pause Is Urgently Needed
In Yemen, a Humanitarian Pause Is Urgently Needed

As war continues to rage uninterrupted in Yemen, a humanitarian pause is badly needed as the country spirals down to chaos, leaving the majority of the population in urgent need of medical care. Restrictions on access to medical supplies and care are key impediments in improving the situation of people in need. A five day humanitarian pause would allow supplies and care to reach those people and relieve their dire health situation.

According to UNICEF, Yemen has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world, especially among children.

At the same time, attacks on health facilities continue. Last October, the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned the bombing of a Medécins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) supported hospital in Saada Province in northern Yemen. MSF believes that as a consequence 200.000 people were left without medical care. That attack, that violated International Humanitarian Law, was the second on an MSF-run facility in a month.

Armed Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees, supporting forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed fugitive President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, inspect artillery shells as they continue to battle Shiite Houthi rebels in the area of Sirwah, in the west of Marib Province, east of the capital Sanaa, on May 21, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)
Armed Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees, supporting forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed fugitive President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, inspect artillery shells as they continue to battle Shiite Houthi rebels in the Sirwah area, in Marib Province, east of the capital Sanaa, on May 21, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

Since the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen, conducted with U.S. support, more than 5,700 have died (almost half of them civilians)—including hundreds of women and children—and 28.753 injuries have been reported. Several health workers have also been killed and 47 health facilities in 11 governorates have been damaged or closed as a result of the continuous violence.

Yemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in the UNESCO-listed heritage site in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, on June 12, 2015, following an overnight Saudi-led airstrike. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in the UNESCO-listed heritage site in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, on June 12, 2015, following an overnight Saudi-led airstrike. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Health care services in all public hospitals have been reduced, especially operating theaters and intensive care units. At the same time, disrupted immunization activities have increased the risks for measles and poliomyelitis, even though Yemen is presently free of polio.

The breakdown of the water supply and sanitation systems has facilitated the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, as well acute diarrheal diseases, particularly affecting children. Also, because of limited communication, the early warning alert system for diseases has been seriously affected.

Armed Yemeni tribesman from the Popular Resistance Committees supporting forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed fugitive President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi stand behind piles of artillery shells as they continue to battle Shiite Houthi rebels in the Sirwah area, in Marib Province, east of the capital Sanaa, on May 10, 2015. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed Yemeni tribesman from the Popular Resistance Committees stand behind piles of artillery shells in the Sirwah area, Marib Province, east of the capital Sanaa, on May 10, 2015. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The country has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world. According to UNICEF, 1.3 million Yemeni children younger than five years now suffer from acute malnutrition, compared to 850.000 before the war started. 320.000 are severely malnourished, twice the amount before the crisis. The little cash people have is to pay for food and gas—at greatly increased prices—leaving no money to afford health care.

The Lancet reports that approximately a quarter of the country’s health care facilities are no longer functional. To make matters worse, as Ronald Kremer, MSF medical emergency coordinator, says, “People do not dare to go to hospitals because they are afraid that they are targeted and, even if they want to go they may not have the means—even where public transport does exist, it is very expensive because of the fuel problems.”

A Yemeni woman carries boxes of food on her head as she walks through the mountains along the only path accessible between the southern cities of Aden and Taez on Dec. 26, 2015. The main roads leading to the embattled city of Taez are blocked due to the ongoing fighting between forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Shiite Houthi rebels. (Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images)
A Yemeni woman carries boxes of food on her head as she walks through the mountains along the only path accessible between the southern cities of Aden and Taez on Dec. 26, 2015. The main roads leading to the embattled city of Taez are blocked due to the ongoing fighting between forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Shiite Houthi rebels. (Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images)

Fuel problems have increased the problems in obtaining clean water. Lack of a proper water supply and the dire sanitation and hygiene situation has led to outbreaks of dengue and malaria. Because many Yemenis store water in open containers, that becomes an ideal breeding ground for disease-transmitting mosquitoes.

A Yemeni boy walks past the rubble of destroyed houses in the village of Bani Matar, 43 miles west of Sanaa, on April 4, 2015, a day after it was reportedly hit by an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Houthi rebel positions. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)
A Yemeni boy walks past the rubble of destroyed houses in the village of Bani Matar, 43 miles west of Sanaa, on April 4, 2015, a day after it was reportedly hit by an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Houthi rebel positions. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

So far, there are more than 2.5 million people who have become internally displaced persons (IDPs). To compound an already difficult situation, disrupted immunization campaigns have led to increasing number of children affected with measles and rubella, particularly among IDPs living in overcrowded conditions.

As a result of the conflict, many hospitals, laboratories, health warehouses, and administrative offices have closed. Primary care facilities have minimum access to medicines, supplies and equipment. Fuel shortage has affected the proper operations of ambulances.

An Emirati gunner watches for enemy fire from the rear gate of a UAE Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen on Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck)
An Emirati gunner watches for enemy fire from the rear gate of a UAE Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen on Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck)

In this situation, a humanitarian pause is urgently needed. A five day pause, as proposed by WHO, would allow humanitarian organizations to respond to some of the most life-threatening needs of the people, particularly women and children caught in the middle of the conflict. An MSF doctor taking care of a badly hurt child in Syria realized that the child was desperately trying to tell him something. When he asked his translator what the child was saying, the translator responded, “Don’t they realize that we are children?” A similar question could be asked in Yemen today.

César Chelala, M.D., Ph.D., is a global public health consultant for several U.N. and other international agencies. He has carried out health-related missions in 50 countries worldwide. He lives in New York and writes extensively on human rights and foreign policy issues, and is the recipient of awards from Overseas Press Club of America, ADEPA, and Chaski, and recently received the Cedar of Lebanon Gold Medal. He is also the author of several U.N. official publications on health issues.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times.

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