Yemen war: A look at a ‘serious humanitarian crisis’

Sanaa, Yemen, Feb 19, 2020 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Nearly 24 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to a Center of Strategic and International Studies report.

Speaking Jan. 9 to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis called the current situation in Yemen “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history.”

The Yemeni Civil War between a Saudi Arabian-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has left more than 100,000 dead since 2015, and millions more in need of basic food and medical necessities. Between Saudi air strikes on hospitals and schools and Houthi forces holding aid hostage, both sides of the conflict have violated international humanitarian law.

In his speech to diplomats last month the pope decried the “general indifference on the part of the international community” to the human suffering in Yemen.

The United Nations was $1.2 billion short of meeting its $4.2 billion goal for international donations to address the situation in Yemen in 2019. However, the greater challenge has been getting the existing food and medical aid to the millions of Yemeni people who need it.

Severe movement constraints on humanitarian organizations, aerial bombardments, and restrictions on importation has left 80% of Yemen’s population in need of food, fuel, and medicine, the CSIS Task Force on Humanitarian Access reported.

On Feb. 19, the Associated Press reported that half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs had been blocked by the Houthi rebels. The rebels had requested that 2% of the entire aid budget be given to them, heightening concerns that the rebels have been diverting humanitarian aid to fund the war.

“To implement a tax on humanitarian assistance are unacceptable and directly contradict international humanitarian principles,” a USAID spokesperson told the AP.

Because the UN and other donors refused to pay the 2% demand, more than 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children under 5 did not receive nutritional supplements for six months, a U.N. official said.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have attacked Yemeni hospitals, a breach of international humanitarian law. On Feb. 10, the UN reported that two more hospitals north of Marib City had been hit.

More than 19.7 million people in Yemen are in need of basic health care after the conflict severely damaged vital health care facilities.

A cholera outbreak in Yemen has affected tens of thousands of people, but cases of cholera have significantly declined since September 2019 when the World Health Organization reported 86,000 cases. In January 2020, WHO reported 35,000 suspected cholera cases in Yemen.

A UN spokesman reported Feb. 18 that aid staff have not heard reports of “famine-like conditions” in 2020 as they had in 2018. However, 7 million people in Yemen remain malnourished as the country relies on imports for 90% of its grain and other food supplies.

In early months of 2020, the conflict has displaced 26,800 people in northern Yemen, according to the UN.

In January 2020, a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN spoke during an open debate at the UN Security Council.

Pope Francis is concerned about the continued “silence and indifference” on the situation in Yemen and concerned that the lack of international attention could allow further suffering and loss of life, Vatican diplomat Monsignor Fredrik Hansen told the Security Council.

The pope has often asked for prayers for the Yemeni people in his public audiences in recent years.

“Pray hard, because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus prayer in February 2019.

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