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Yemen: Escalating humanitarian crisis


More than 5,000 civilians have been killed and 9,000 injured in the conflict in Yemen over the last three years. Although more than 70% of the population (21 million Yemenis) need emergency aid, the blockade imposed on 6th November 2017 has aggravated an already disastrous humanitarian situation[1], preventing the entry of foodstuffs, medical supplies and humanitarian aid. Seven million people are on the brink of famine. Arnaud Pont, Yemen emergency desk officer at Handicap International (HI), explains the gravity of the situation:

CALP hospital, Sana’a, in March 2017: A 16 year old patient, whose leg was amputated after he was injured in a shooting.

CALP hospital, Sana’a, in March 2017: A 16 year old patient, whose leg was amputated after he was injured in a shooting. | © Camille Gillardeau/HI

A disastrous humanitarian situation: The crisis in Yemen has led to months of food shortages: 17 million people - 60% of the population - are food insecure, of whom 7 million are on the brink of famine.

Some 3 million people have been forcibly displaced by violence. Fewer than half of health centres are operating normally. 49 of the country’s 276 districts are without doctors[1]. Between April and Septembe 2017, a cholera epidemic killed 2,000 people (out of 900,000 suspected cases)[2].

Impact of the blockade

The closure of seaports, airports and land crossings in and out of the country since 6 November has seriously aggravated the humanitarian crisis. The blockade threatens the lives of millions of people who have been struggling to survive for months.

All food products, medical supplies and so on have been prevented from entering the country for two weeks. The price of petrol and diesel have risen by 170% and 60% respectively. The minimum food basket now costs 20% more than it did before the crisis, and the price of lorry-transported water has increased by 133%[3].

A shortage of fuel needed to pump water from underground could bring an end to water distributions. Water shortages have already raised the risk of outbreaks of water-borne disease, including cholera, only recently brought under control. Several people have died of suspected diphtheria within the last few days.

Petrol shortages have also had a serious impact on health centres, including the closure of intensive care units. Stocks of wheat and sugar are set to run out within three months.

Humanitarian aid paralyzed

The blockade has severely disrupted the distribution of humanitarian assistance to 27 million people. Humanitarian workers have been unable to enter or leave the country since 6 November. OCHA[4] reported on 15 November that 300,000 tonnes of food and some 200,000 tonnes of petrol are held up at the border. The blockade on supplies threatens the lives of 400,000 pregnant women who require essential medical supplies and equipment.

Under international pressure, Saudi Arabia has announced the partial lifting of the blockade for humanitarian products. Plans to reopen the port of Hodeida and Sanaa airport to humanitarian aid on Thursday 23 November remain unconfirmed. Both facilities have limited capacity for foodstuffs and equipment.

Handicap International in Yemen

HI has been present in Yemen since 2014. The organisation’s team of 60 staff members, including eight international salaried staff (three based in Sanaa), work in five health centres and hospitals in Sanaa where they provide rehabilitation care, train and assist medical teams in providing functional rehabilitation care, distribute mobility aids (crutches, wheelchairs) and equip hospitals. The organisation also runs psychosocial support sessions for traumatised conflict-affected people. It is also raising the awareness of NGOs in the field to ensure people with disabilities and vulnerable people are included in humanitarian action.

Key figures: HI actions, November 2016 to October 2017

  • 1,330 people benefitted from rehabilitation sessions.
  • 2,700 people benefitted from psychosocial sessions.
  • 1,440 mobility aids distributed, including wheelchairs and crutches.
  • 66 medical staff (nurses, caregivers and so on) trained in basic rehabilitation care and psychosocial support.
  • Some 60 humanitarian organisations made aware of the need to include people with disabilities in emergency aid.
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