Yemen: Heavy fighting threatens civilians and health facilities

Haydan school, in Yemen's Saada governorate, bombarded in 2016 by the international coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
YEMEN © AGNES VARRAINE-LECA/MSF
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NOVEMBER 21, 2018—Hundreds of people have been wounded in fierce fighting in Yemen since the beginning of November, with the Saudi- and Emirati-led offensive endangering health facilities and civilians, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

MSF teams have treated more than 500 war-wounded people since November 1, when the coalition launched a new offensive against Ansar Allah troops. Heavy fighting and shelling have resumed inside Hodeidah, with battles waged very close to Al-Salakhana Hospital, where MSF works.

"Our staff hear extremely close explosions and shooting every day around Al-Salakhana Hospital," said Caroline Seguin, MSF operations manager for Yemen. "Ground fighting between military forces is getting closer to the hospital, raising concerns about patient and staff safety."

From November 1 to 15, MSF teams treated 510 people suffering from war-related injuries, including at least 31 women and 33 children, at facilities in Hodeidah, Abs, Aden, Hajjah, and Mocha. Among the wounded, 241 were injured by gunshots, 227 by blasts, and 30 by shrapnel. Admissions to emergency rooms increased by 56 percent in Aden and 50 percent in Mocha during the first two weeks of November, compared to the same period in October. To respond to the influx of war-wounded patients, MSF teams increased the bed capacity from 133 to 172 at MSF's Aden, Hodeidah, and Mocha hospitals.

Al-Salakhana hospital remains one of only three open and operational public hospitals in the Hodeidah area. Al-Thawrah hospital, the main public health facility in the city, is still operational but threatened by fighting and rapidly moving front lines.

"Civilians have ever fewer options to access health care in Hodeidah, and referral to other health facilities outside the city takes hours," said Seguin. "We see children hit by gunshots and pregnant women with complications in urgent need of lifesaving medical care arriving very late at hospitals in Mocha and Aden, which are hours away by road."

As fighting continues inside Hodeidah, a potential siege of the city could lead to civilians being caught in the crossfire and trapped inside without enough hospitals to support them.

"Today, we don't know how people can escape Hodeidah since they are trapped between warring parties, or how they can access basic services if the situation worsens," Seguin said.  

The conflict in Yemen has directly affected medical facilities on numerous occasions, including those operated by MSF.  Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition airstrikes and missile attacks have struck MSF facilities six times since 2015, killing 27 people and injuring 40."All parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians and civilian facilities such as hospitals are protected,” said Seguin.

While the United States has called for a ceasefire by the end of November, peace talks have been postponed to the end of the year and the current offensive is exacting a significant toll on civilians. The official death toll has remained at 10,000 since August 2016, while other monitoring groups such as the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project have estimated more that more than 57,000 people have died in the conflict.