Yemen: Warring Parties Show New Level of Disregard for Suffering Civilians

YEMEN 2017 © MSF

SANA'A/HAJJAH, YEMEN—The warring parties in Yemen are showing a whole new level of disregard for civilians, as heavy street fighting and airstrikes have paralyzed Sana'a, leaving the wounded without safe access to medical care. Meanwhile, a crippling blockade prevents vital supplies from entering the country, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Over the past week, people in Sana'a have been trapped in their homes for days due to fighting and airstrikes. Clashes also spread to other parts of the country, such as Hajjah, Amran, and Ibb governorates.

Medical teams using ambulances to try and retrieve the injured reportedly came under fire in Sana'a. Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed. Although MSF has not received the necessary guarantees from parties to the conflict to move medical personnel where needed in Sana'a, it has been able to make medical donations to hospitals in the city.

On December 2, MSF received 28 war-wounded patients at its two hospitals in Khamer and Houth. In the early hours of December 4, an airstrike damaged the MSF-supported Al Gamhouri hospital in Hajjah city. The emergency room, operating theater, and intensive care unit were damaged and 12 emergency room patients were evacuated. Despite the damage, Al Gamhouri hospital received 22 casualties from the airstrikes in Hajjah shortly afterward. Al Gamhouri also received a total of 38 war-wounded patients from December 2 to 3.

"Health services have been repeatedly attacked over the course of this conflict," said Steve Purbrick, MSF field coordinator in Hajjah. "Yet again warring parties are not taking measures to spare medical facilities, endangering the lives of patients and medical staff. Civilians must be able to flee or seek medical care, ambulances must be allowed to reach the injured, and hospitals must be protected."

Read More: In Yemen, “Just Living Has Become More Difficult”

The clashes come as Yemen still reels from a crippling blockade on commercial and humanitarian imports, imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on November 6. Although some humanitarian flights and ships have now been allowed into Yemen again, the blockade is still in place for commercial imports of goods, including food and fuel. For Yemenis, this has placed a significant additional strain on access to basic goods, medicine, and medical supplies. Since the escalation of the fighting and imposition of the blockade, fuel prices have increased over 200 percent, and prices of daily essentials like water and food have also risen dramatically.

"The blockade and recent fighting have had a devastating knock-on effect on the medical mission in Yemen," said Djoen Besselink, head of mission for MSF. "The increased cost of fuel, for example, means that people must pay more for transport to hospitals, or choose between going to hospital and buying food for the rest of their families. Hospitals are themselves struggling to afford the costs of fuel, which may prompt some of the few remaining functional hospitals to close."

MSF calls for the lifting of the blockade to alleviate the suffering of people in Yemen.

Read More: Yemen Blockade by Saudi-Led Coalition Hindering Medical Aid

"The destruction and dismantling of Yemen's health services have been a hallmark of the conflict over the past two and a half years," Besselink said. "The blockade is significantly contributing to this, and must be lifted immediately. Commercial ships and planes must be allowed into ports of entry in the north to prevent more needless suffering."

MSF works in 13 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and provides support to more than 20 hospitals or health centers across 12 Yemeni governorates: Taiz, Aden, Al-Dhale', Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb, Sana'a, Hodaida, Abyan, Shabwa, and Lahj. With nearly 1,600 staff nationwide, Yemen is among MSF´s largest projects in the world.