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Fuel, blockades and the last thread of Yemen’s lifeline

May 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Yemen’s humanitarian situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the airstrikes. The conflicts that have pelted Yemen over the past few decades have put the country in a vulnerable position before the dramatic escalation of violence caused by the airstrike. Already, over half of Yemenis lived below the poverty line and in 2013 8.6 million people in Yemen lacked basic health care provisions. Out of a population of 24 million people, 10.5 million were food insecure and 13.1 million were water insecure. Not only was the 20th century one of conflict for Yemen, but irresponsible leadership was the shovel to the grave of Yemeni social care. Decades of corruption under Ali Abdullah Saleh left him estimated to be worth $32-$60 billion; making him one of the richest dictators in history in what is now the poorest Arab country. Post Arab Spring leadership was not only weak and irresponsible in tackling the Saleh infiltration, but still failed to improve social provisions in Yemen.

The airstrikes, along with the surge of Houthi violence, amplified the already present humanitarian crisis not just by killing, injuring and destroying civilian infrastructure, but the blockade that came along with the airstrikes has worsened the situation. On 2 May, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Johannes van der Klaauw noted that “services still available in the country in terms of health, water, food are quickly disappearing because fuel is no longer being brought into the country.” Fuel tankers haven’t been allowed in Yemen by the Saudi coalition since 28 March and much of Yemen’s domestic supplies, which are near exhaustion, have been taken over by the Houthis. The sharp increase in food prices means that Yemenis, who on average before the crisis spent 40 per cent of their income on food, are now left subject to starvation.

Cooking gas is now a myth in Yemen, although the ceasefire has eased the blockade to allow aid and fuel to be transported inside Yemen, supplying enough to accommodate Yemen’s population of 24 million is a near impossible task. Wood is currently being used as an alternative means for fuel amongst civilians. The UN reported using donkey carts to transport food and water, due to fuel shortages. Fuel is currently being prioritised for medical services that have become a scarce luxury.

On 8 May, UNICEF’s spokesperson, Christophe Boulierac, warned that in Yemen, children are more likely to die of malnourishment than they are to die from the violence around them. A lack of provisions to vaccinate has left millions of children unvaccinated, potentially exposing them to deadly and avoidable diseases such as measles, tuberculosis and malaria. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also reported that cases of malaria and blooded diarrhoea have doubled since the beginning of the airstrikes. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an NGO who’s medical staff is currently playing a prominent role in Yemen, has also been covering the medical crisis. MSF posted a picture of a girl, aged one, being treated for organ failure as a result of acute malnourishment after her mother walked for six hours to get her to hospital for treatment.

They also reported a story of another child that they could not save, due to a lack of resources that died of tonsillitis. Teresa Sancristóval, an MSF emergency coordinator blogged about the situation in Saada, a Houthi stronghold and the province of its roots when it was being hit by the airstrikes indiscriminately on 8 May. “The market, storage facilities and government buildings have been destroyed and many civilians are suffering the consequences. At the hospital, where those severely injured are brought in, the majority of the staff works and lives in the hospital,” she explained. She also noted that there were seven women giving birth, of which five had to flee the hospital due to the intensity of the airstrikes.

The politicisation of hospitals in Yemen has left many subject to airstrikes as Houthis have been using them as micro-bases, which in turn subjects them to Saudi airstrikes. Amnesty International’s latest press release confirms that in addition to the Houthis sniping random innocent civilians on the streets of Aden, they are also terrorising hospitals. On 6 May, they invaded Ma’Allah clinic in Aden and – led by a teenage boy that appeared to be aged 14 or 15 – they began to threaten medics and patients and even prevented a medic from treating someone who was hit with a sniper. They also demanded to raid the mortuary’s fridges to see if one of their fighter’s bodies was stored there. The hospital was evacuated and no further treatments were allowed.

The ones that have not been subject to political violence are finding it difficult to continue functioning properly. The head of Al-Yarim Hospital in Ibb, Hamoud Al Jehafi, told the UN that he has searched everywhere for fuel for the hospital and so has had no time to treat injured and sick patients. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who are also working in the country, have been posting first-hand accounts of the medical crisis on the ground. They were told by Issa Alzubh, head of Al-Kuwait Hospital in Sanaa, that there is no fuel to carry out the most basic medical treatments and even keeping the hospital running at the absolute minimum level is increasingly challenging. They, along with other hospitals across the country, suffer a severe shortage of staff as the hospital buses no longer run and their ambulances are no longer in service because of the fuel shortage.

The Yemeni people have been suffering between a battle that consists of indiscriminate attacks and human shields. War crimes on both sides of the conflict are taking place, and they only ever end up harming the innocent men, women and children of Yemen. In a country that has an estimated 60 million guns, an attempt to constrict the Houthis through a blockade is only hurting the civilians and medics that have nothing to do with the conflict. Currently, weapons are the only thing in Yemen that are not on the verge of running out and while it’s an absolute imperative to ensure that absolutely no further weapons enter Yemen, it cannot be done at the expense of starving the Yemeni people from food, water and medicine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.