A WHO report shows the extent of Yemeni suffering in the ongoing conflict

Published November 8th, 2016 - 11:28 GMT
A malnourished Yemeni boy receives treatment at a therapeutic feeding center in Sanaa (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
A malnourished Yemeni boy receives treatment at a therapeutic feeding center in Sanaa (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

A WHO report revealed on Sunday that over half of Yemeni health facilities are closed or only partially functioning, and that there are critical shortages of medics in more than 40 percent of districts in Yemen.  

Largely ignored by the media, a huge humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the country as a result of the ongoing conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition supporting the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. 

This health crisis is partly the consequence of Saudi-led coalition bombing, with 274 health facilities having been damaged and 69 of them completely destroyed during the conflict. On the 15 August, for instance, Amnesty International reported that a Saudi military aircraft had destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Hajjah province using a bomb manufactured in the US. Additionally, the conflict has blocked sea and air passages for imports, preventing the entrance of vital medical supplies and desperately needed food.

The lack of medical facilities is deeply worrying, given that 14 million Yemenis (over half of the population) are in need of urgent health services, including 2.1 million who have been internally displaced. Added to that, on 6 October an outbreak of cholera was detected in the country, making pressure on hospital services even greater.

The problem surrounding the lack of medical supplies is dwarfed, however, by the scale of the food crisis currently facing the country. World Food Programme (WFP) figures from June 2016 show that 14.1 million people in Yemen are food insecure, with 7 million of the those severely food insecure.

Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food, however the fighting has closed off supply routes and intensified the acute food shortage in an already food-poor country where acute malnutrition for children under five already reached the staggeringly high level of 31 per cent prior to the conflict.

A statement by the WFP Country Director for Yemen on 25 October suggested that in Yemen “an entire generation could be crippled by hunger.”

Certainly, images of emaciated 18-year-old Saida Ahmad Baghili, who was receiving treatment for severe malnutrition at al-Thawra hospital in Hodeida, shocked the world when they were published last week.

However, it seems that even these haunting pictures of great human suffering have not been enough to push a disinterested public into action. America and Britain continue to supply weapons to Saudi Arabia, and to describe it as an ally, while the very same weapons are used to target civilians, including at a funeral hall last month, where 140 civilians were killed.

The US fails to recognize the hypocrisy of calling for an end to indiscriminate strikes from Saudi Arabia at the UN, while continuing to supply $115bn worth of weapons as part of an agreement with the gulf state. The UK is not much better, having licensed £3.3bn worth of arms sales since the conflict began in March 2015.

At Prime Minister’s Question Time in the UK Parliament on 19th October, the Scottish National Party deputy leader, Angus Robertson, asked the Prime Minister, Theresa May, if she could give assurance that civilians are not being killed in Yemen by British bombs. He asked that, if not, would this not suggest a need to withdraw support for the Saudi-led campaign? Mrs May avoided the question, instead suggesting that a full investigation would need to be carried out before any conclusions could be drawn.

Some on social media have expressed sadness over the considerable suffering in Yemen, and the lack of compassion from governments:


Meanwhile, as western politicians and their electorates largely turn a blind eye to their own guilt for Yemeni suffering, a humanitarian disaster is looming in the war-torn country.


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