Yemen is Fast Becoming a Humanitarian Disaster on Par with Syria and South Sudan

Yemen is a humanitarian disaster. And as the Saudi-led airstrikes enter its 27th day, things are only getting worse.

150,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the fighting. An untold number of civilians have been killed. The entire country is basically under siege, with adequate humanitarian supplies unable to reach people in need.

The airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition are apparently not adequately distinguishing between civilian and military targets. In the latest example, of which there are many, an Oxfam humanitarian supply warehouse was hit in a missile strike. And even when military targets are hit, the civilian costs are can be exceedingly high, as in yesterday’s strike on a missile factory in Sanaa, which caused a huge explosion and killed 30 people and destroyed houses miles away.

Just look at this explosion. And consider it happened in city with a population of over 1 million people. It’s hard to see how this satisfies the just war principle of double effect.

In the latest onslaught of dire warnings, the WHO warned today of the “imminent collapse” of Yemen’s entire health system saying that polio, measles and diarrhea may make a comeback.

Health facilities are struggling to function as they face increasing shortages of life-saving medicines and vital health supplies, frequent disruptions in power supply and lack of fuel for generators. Lack of fuel has also disrupted functionality of ambulances and the delivery of health supplies across the country.

Power cuts and fuel shortages also threaten to disrupt the vaccine cold chain, leaving millions of children below the age of five unvaccinated. This increases the risk of communicable diseases such as measles, which is prevalent in Yemen, as well as polio, which has been eliminated but is now at risk of reappearing.

Shortages of safe water have resulted in increased risk of diarrhoea, and other diseases. “Over the past 4 weeks, national disease surveillance reports show a doubling in the number of cases of bloody diarrhoea in children below the age of 5, as well as an increase in the number of cases of measles and suspected malaria. High rates of malnutrition among women and children below the age of 5 have also been reported,” says Dr Ahmed Shadoul, WHO Representative for Yemen.

With no end to the conflict in sight there is one bright spot: Saudi Arabia has agreed to cover the entirety of the UN’s $273.7 million humanitarian appeal to provide basic relief to 7.5 million people affected by the conflict.  This is exceedingly rare. Humanitarian responses to ongoing disasters are almost never paid for in full. (For example, the Syria humanitarian appeal is only 17% filled.) Also, this is probably the first time that a belligerent to a conflict has footed the entire bill of the humanitarian response to a disaster caused, in part, by their bombs and missile strikes.

Still, if Saudi Arabia continues its airstrikes and siege, these costs are going to skyrocket. Yemen is fast becoming a first-order humanitarian emergency, on par with Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. If the international community doesn’t coalesce around a strategy to reduce the violence it risks letting loose another region-wide Syrian-esque death spiral.

Bonus: In this 15 minute interview April Longley Alley of the International Crisis Groups explains the root causes of this conflict and what the international community can do to put a halt to this violence.