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‘The situation is dire for Yemenis’

14 September 2018

Yemen needs help, but stop the fighting first, says the Archdeacon in the Gulf


A street is blocked by burning tyres in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, earlier this month. Traders held a general strike in protest against the rocketing prices of basic commodities

A street is blocked by burning tyres in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, earlier this month. Traders held a general strike in protest against th...

“WEEP for the people” of Yemen, and pray for an end to the violence, the Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven. Dr Bill Schwartz, has said. But providing practical help in the region is unrealistic until the fighting stops, he says.

More than 10,000 people, including 5200 civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the civil war between Houthi rebels and government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition began in 2015, the United Nations estimates.

Earlier this month, the coalition took responsibility for an air strike which last month killed dozens of people, including a bus that was full of children.

The fighting has also led to famine, cholera, mass unemployment, a lack of medical supplies, and internal displacement in the country.

“The situation for the people of Yemen is as dire as can be imagined,” Dr Schwartz says. “Everything necessary for life is in short supply, and what is available is hyperinflated from profiteering, and the artificial deflation of the currency adds to that economic disaster.”

Landmines were also a threat. “Even after billions are spent clearing mines, booby traps, and other unexploded ordinance, accidents will continue to be a problem because some will be missed in the clearing.”

The ongoing violence has made relief efforts near impossible, Dr Schwartz says. “There will come a time when Christians will be in a position to provide solace and aid, but only the UN, Red Cross, MSF [Doctors Without Borders], and governmental agencies can get clearance from the coalition, the fighters, and profiteers in the relief efforts at this point.”

There is no Yemeni Church in any official sense, he says, and, although there are some Yemeni Christians, they are not gathered, and are almost entirely unknown to each other. “For many years, the only two official Churches in the country have both been in Aden: ours, and the Roman Catholic Church — there to serve foreigners who live in the country.

“Now, with the extended fighting and threat of kidnapping, there are very few foreigners in the country, and those present are not able to move about freely without armed guards. Gathering a group would be creating a terrorist target. I don’t want to overstate this, but it’s a reality both our Bishop and the regional Catholic Bishop both monitor quite closely.”

Christ Church, in the port city of Aden, runs the Ras Morbat Clinic, a small eye clinic set up to minister to people who cannot be treated, or cannot afford to be treated in the medical establishments which are running, he says.

It is staffed entirely by Yemeni Muslims. “They are providing care for the whole range of eye treatment, extending to co-operation with MSF in the treatment of head wounds from mines and booby traps left over and not yet cleared in Aden.

“Support to continue paying salaries, purchasing consumables and medicine, and running the generator for electricity is always a need.”

The UN estimates that 75 per cent of the Yemeni population — 22 million people — require some form of humanitarian help or protection, including 8.5 million who are at risk of starvation. The water sanitation has also been compromised, putting the people at risk of a cholera epidemic.

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