CHRIST CHURCH, Aden, and the associated Ras Morbat Clinic are
locked and under armed guard as the civil war in Yemen continues,
the Anglican Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven Bill Schwartz,
Heavy street-to-street fighting in Aden, between forces loyal
and hostile to President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, has paralysed life
in the city. The UN estimates that more than 600 people throughout
the country have been killed, and about 2000 wounded since the
fighting intensified in April.
The Anglican Chaplain in Aden returned to his home in India in
February as the fighting intensified. Although the clinic in the
church compound, which offers general medical services and
specialist eye treatment, remained open, some three weeks later a
decision was taken to close it.
"In part," Archdeacon Schwartz, who is based in Qatar, said, "it
was becoming too risky for staff to move around Aden and try to get
to work on time. And, also, we didn't want groups of people in the
compound becoming potential targets."
A Yemeni administrator of Christ Church, described by Archdeacon
Schwartz as "a very valuable and loyal" friend of the Anglican
community, is continuing to keep an eye on the compound when he is
able to. Archdeacon Schwartz asked that his name should not be
published in case this jeopardised his safety.
The Christ Church administrator has removed much of the
expensive medical equipment from the Ras Morbat Clinic and taken it
to safety. But Archdeacon Schwartz admits that the armed guards
would be no match for a determined group of troops or militiamen,
if they decided they wanted to break into the compound. Nor would
there be much left when they departed. During fighting in 1994, the
compound was looted: not only was furniture and equipment stolen,
but tiles were lifted from the floor, window frames were removed,
and electric cable was ripped from the walls.
Archdeacon Schwartz said that, of the mainly Asian and African
congregations, "all but two [members] have been evacuated. One
Kenyan and one Ethiopian decided that for their own reasons they
didn't want to go back home."
The days when Westerners felt safe in Aden are long gone. The
decision to appoint an Indian to the chaplaincy was based on the
fear that a priest from a Western country might be kidnapped.
Archdeacon Schwartz described conditions in Aden as "incredibly
dangerous, and plain horrible". Besides urging people to pray for
peace, he pointed out that an end to the conflict would signal the
start of the much bigger challenge of "putting Yemen back together.
We need to think ahead about how Christian organisations might help
in reconstructing the country."
Living conditions throughout Yemen, one of the poorest countries
in the world, have deteriorated over recent days. Efforts to bring
urgently needed supplies of food and medical equipment have been
restricted by fighting around Sana'a International Airport and Aden
The UN humanitarian co- ordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der
Klaauw, has called for an "immediate humanitarian pause in this
conflict". It was vital that aid should be allowed in by air and
sea, he said, to help cope with "one of the largest and most
complex humanitarian emergencies in the world". Aden was being
ravaged by urban warfare, and one million people in the city "risk
being cut off from access to clean drinking water within a matter
The conflict in Yemen is as complicated as it is dangerous. The
Zaidi Shi'a Houthis, from the far north of the country, have sided
with army units loyal to the ousted head of state, Ali Abdullah
Saleh, and have taken over the capital, Sana'a, and many other
parts of the country. They are fighting elements of the army loyal
to President Hadi, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - besides
armed tribes and southerners seeking independ-ence.
President Hadi was trapped in his palace at Sana'a by the
Houthis, when they took control of the capital before escaping to
Aden. But, as forces opposed to him advanced, he fled to Saudi
Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states played a leading part in the
transfer of power from President Saleh to President Hadi. They are
now conducting an air campaign to try to stop the Houthi army
advancing. The Saudis have accused the Iranians of supporting the
Shi'a, a claim denied by Iran.
Gulf states sought last month to bring all sides in the conflict
back to the negotiating table, but the threat that Aden would fall
to the Houthis and their allies prompted the Saudis to start air
strikes, which, they say, will continue until forces opposed to
President Hadi withdraw from the capital.