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United Nations sends aid to famine-hit Yemen

26 January 2018


Picking up the crumbs: Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq stands in a garbage dump near the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, in the Yemen, where he scavenges for recyclables and food that is thrown away. He is aged 11

Picking up the crumbs: Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq stands in a garbage dump near the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, in the Yemen, where he scavenges for recyclab...

THE United Nations has launched a £2-billion plan to deliver aid to 13 million Yemeni people — almost half the population — amid warnings that 8.4 million are at risk of famine.

“Humanitarian assistance is not the solution to the plight of the people of Yemen, but it is the only lifeline for millions of them,” the humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said on Sunday. “Today, humanitarian partners appeal to the international community to support this critical lifeline.”

On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition announced that it would commit £1.07 billion in new aid for Yemen. It had already opened up corridors for aid deliveries by air and land, it said, and it planned to install cranes in government-held ports to facilitate imports. The aim is to increase monthly imports from 1.1 million metric tons last year to 1.4 million metric tons. Last week, Saudi Arabia deposited $2 billion in Yemen’s central bank, Reuters reports.

In addition to fighting Houthi rebels, the Yemeni government faces challenges from separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which on Sunday declared a state of emergency in Aden, and vowed to overthrow the government within the next week, Al Jazeera reports.

Getting essential supplies to the millions of Yemenis who are facing starvation and disease was made significantly harder in November, when Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed a blockade on Yemen which closed ports and airports (News, 17 November). On Monday, a spokesman for the coalition said that permission for commercial ships to dock at Hodeidah, a rebel-held port, would be extended for another month.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 8.4 million Yemenis were at risk of famine, and that some 76 per cent of the population, 22.2 million in total, relied on aid to survive.

The World Health Organization has also warned that diphtheria is spreading fast across the country. There have been 678 cases, and 48 deaths, in the past four months. Yemen has also been battling the worst outbreak of cholera in modern history, which has killed thousands and infected more than a million people, mostly children.

A UNICEF report on the situation in Yemen, Born Into War: 1000 days of lost childhood, released last week, states that almost every child in the country is now dependent on humanitarian aid to survive. Of the three million children born since the war began, in 2015, 30 per cent were born prematurely, 30 per cent were underweight at birth, and 25,000 died either during birth or in their first month of life.

A separate UN report on human-rights abuses in Yemen has concluded that the Saudi coalition’s air strikes have caused the deaths of at least 157 civilians in 2017, Al Jazeera said last week.

The report, which was made for the UN Security Council and has not been published, is said to examine ten air strikes that used precision munitions to target a boat of migrants, a market, residential buildings, and a motel.

There is also evidence of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention, and even of people “disappearing” into torture camps inside the UAE, the report states.


The comfort of good news. Cheering news emerged from Yemen this week: now that the road to the port city of Mokha has been restored, staff from the Ras Morbat eye clinic in Aden, a ministry of Christ Church, Aden, can again reach patients in need of eye surgery.

Since travel between the two cities has been impossible for more than two years, 100 people in need of cataract surgery are waiting for treatment. On Tuesday, the Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven. Bill Schwartz, said that the director of the hospital in Mokha had requested a visit, and that staff were “eager to renew the relationship that was established in the past”. It was, he said, “comforting to be able to give some good news about Yemen . . . it was just remarkable to see people walk in blind, and leave next day sighted.” Staff will travel with a military guard to prevent looting, but it was “none the less doable”.

Ras Morbat clinic, established in 1996 to provide primary health-care and eye care to the poorest people in the community, and staffed entirely by Yemeni Muslims, has continued to operate during the conflict, although it was placed under armed guard in 2015 (News, 17 April 2015). Staff have treated people injured in the fighting, in addition to their usual caseload (News, 1 January 2016). The expatriate congregation of Christ Church left long ago.

Asked about the ongoing conflict, Dr Schwartz said that many people remained cut off from supplies, and that, given that Saudi aid would be sent “to their friends, through their friends”, that aid was “also a weapon of war”: those who were inaccessible, or whose tribal identity meant that they supported “the wrong side”, would remain “out of luck”.

Aden was being “overwhelmed” by migration from the north, he said. “I don’t see any basis for a political settlement under the current arrangements. . . Lots of people [are] profiteering out of this, and they do not want to see a solution.”

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