By Alyssa Tolentino
With more than 20 million Yemenis, including 11 million children, in need of urgent aid, the United Nations is calling for a lifting of the blockade implemented by Saudi Arabia, calling the deepening crisis the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
For years, war has raged between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels who seized the country’s northwestern region and its capital, Sana’a. In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition intervened and has conducted a relentless airstrike campaign in the country to support the predominantly Sunni government and suppress the Houthis. The fight has come to a bloody stalemate as Yemeni civilians are losing much-needed infrastructure, medical facilities, and often their lives, NPR reports.
Even before the conflict, Yemen was the Arab World’s poorest country. According to VOA News, the war has killed more than 10 thousand people and displaced roughly 3 million. In 2017 alone, more than 50 thousand children are believed to have died. Unfortunately, little progress was made as rebels continue to control much of northern Yemen and the capital.
Last month, Houthi rebels attempted a missile strike on an airport in Riyadh. In retaliation, Saudi Arabia has imposed a near-total blockade closing all air, land, and sea access to Yemen, thus preventing food, water, and fuel to enter the country. According to NPR, Saudi Arabia justifies the blockade by claiming it necessary to prevent the flow of weapons to rebels.
At least 14 million Yemenis lack basic healthcare or access to clean water. More than 900 thousand suffer from suspected cases of cholera, a disease that should be preventable and treatable. In addition, 7 million people depend on food assistance, VOA News reports. The U.N. warns that Yemen could suffer the worst famine in decades.
Of the population, the Yemeni children are hit hardest by the crisis. According to Save the Children, roughly 130 children die every day. That is one child every ten minutes. Reuters reports that at least one million children are at risk of a fast-spreading diphtheria outbreak. Furthermore, the lives of 400 thousand pregnant women and their babies are being threatened by the lack of medicines.
According to Reuters, Sherin Varkey, UNICEF deputy representative in Yemen said in a phone interview, “There is a fuel crisis. Some estimates say fuel with only last in the country for twenty days.” UNICEF is currently helping provide clean water to 6 million Yemenis by ensuring fuel is delivered to water pumping stations in cities.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric released a statement saying Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written to Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, claiming the kingdom’s failure to reopen key airports and seaports in Yemen is reversing humanitarian efforts to tackle the crisis in the impoverished country. The U.N. is urging the Saudi-led coalition to resume U.N. humanitarian flights to Aden and Sana’a and to reopen ports of Hodeida and Salif for food and medical deliveries.
On November 13, Saudi Arabia agreed to start reopening some Yemeni ports and airports, Al Jazeera reports. According to Reuters, the government-controlled port of Aden has partially re-opened for limited shipments of aid. According to National Yemen, Aden received its first flight after the blockade from Cairo. Yemenia Airlines official claim that flights will increase gradually. Sana’a’s airport, however, remains closed for commercial and humanitarian flights.
A joint statement from World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, and World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus states, “To deprive this many of the basic means of survival is an unconscionable act and a violation of humanitarian principles and law.”