Civilians in Yemen caught in the middle as crisis worsens

Click to play video: 'Humanitarian crisis in Yemen worsens amid civil war and COVID-19'
Humanitarian crisis in Yemen worsens amid civil war and COVID-19
As Yemen's long-running civil war continues, the country's humanitarian crisis is deepening. – Sep 26, 2020

The United Nations is calling on Houthi leaders in Yemen to reopen the airport in the capital Sanaa to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid into the country.

The Houthi administration suspended all UN and humanitarian flights into Sanaa on Sept. 9.

According to Oxfam, that move has meant 200 metric tons of aid hasn’t been able to reach the war-ravaged country.

“There are many, many people who are in dire need for such assistance,” says Abdulwasa Mohammed, a policy advisory for Oxfam in Yemen. “More delays mean more people will lose their lives.”

The UN World Food Programme says more than 20 million people in Yemen are now food insecure. Thirteen million depend on WFP food assistance daily, and the situation is worsening.

In June, 28 per cent of families in Houthi-controlled areas didn’t have enough to eat. The WFP says just three months later, the figure has jumped to 43 per cent.

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“Yemen is a man-made crisis and there is a man-made solution,” says WFP executive-director David Beasley. “We need access, funding and eventually peace.”

Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized power in Yemen in 2014. They control much of the northwest, while a Saudi-led coalition supporting the former government controls much of the rest.

As the conflict enters a seventh year, a non-governmental organization that tracks conflict data says more than 100,000 people have been killed. That includes about 12,000 civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The move to close the airport to aid comes as the Saudi-led coalition slows access at the country’s most important port.

More than 70 per cent of imports come through the port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea.

The coalition is preventing close to two dozen commercial vessels from unloading, holding up access to more than 500,000 tons of fuel, leading to critical shortages.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 threatens to increase poverty in East Africa, Yemen'
COVID-19 threatens to increase poverty in East Africa, Yemen

The Houthi administration says it was forced to close the airport because it didn’t have enough fuel to power generators or run fire trucks. Airspace is controlled by the Saudi-led coalition, but it had been allowing humanitarian flights to land.

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The fuel shortage has led to long lines in the capital. Drivers can wait as much as 48 hours in line. Fuel is also being rationed. Drivers are only allowed 40 litres a week.

“What did the Yemeni people do to go through this suffering?” says Riyad Abdallah, a taxi driver in Sanaa. “How can I work? How can I feed myself and my kids?”

In addition to conflict and famine, the country is also struggling with COVID-19. About half of the health-care system has collapsed, and it has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in the world. According to estimates, there are 10 doctors for every 10,000 people.

There is very little testing and reporting of COVID-19 cases, but it’s believed to have one of the highest death rates of any nation. About one in four patients dies.

“We are hearing people are not seeking medical care at hospitals,” Mohammed says. “They fear they’ll contract it there.”

The global pandemic is also a financial crisis for the country. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis work outside the country and send money back to family members. Those remittances once made up about 13 per cent of Yemen’s GDP, but Oxfam estimates they’ve dropped by about 80 per cent since the pandemic began.

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The United Nations is appealing to other countries to increase donations to fight hunger in Yemen. It reported Wednesday it’s collected about $1.3 billion, leaving it with a shortfall of about $3 billion.

“Donors have been incredibly generous during the war, providing billions of dollars to support people who have nowhere to go and no one else to turn to,” says Lise Grande, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen. “But this year, we are falling short, way short, of what we need.”

The UN says it has shut down or reduced 15 of 41 major humanitarian projects in Yemen, and if donors don’t step forward there will be more cuts in the coming weeks.

“It’s an impossible situation,” Grande says. “The consequences of under-funding are immediate, enormous and devastating.”

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