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ICRC: Yemen Facing Catastrophic Situation

  • Lisa Schlein

People stand by a building destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sana'a, Yemen, July 6, 2015.

People stand by a building destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sana'a, Yemen, July 6, 2015.

The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] says Yemen is facing a catastrophic situation three months after a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began an intense air campaign against the Houthi rebels.

The United Nations reports that Saudi-led airstrikes have killed more than 3,000 people in Yemen — more than half of them civilians — since the bombing campaign began three months ago. It says more than 1 million civilians are internally displaced or have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

Aid agencies say the humanitarian consequences of this relentless war are severe, with more than 21 million people throughout Yemen in need of food and other relief. The ICRC reports health, water and other basic public services have collapsed.

Speaking on a crackly line from Sana'a, the head of the ICRC’s delegation in Yemen, Antoine Grand, told VOA an embargo imposed by the Saudi-led coalition targeting imports of fuel and other goods is having a devastating impact on the population.

Essential commodities

He said over the past three months, Yemen has received only 11 percent of the amount of fuel it once imported and only 15 percent of other essential commodities.

Along with this national embargo, Grand said, localized embargoes are restricting the movement of goods in areas most affected by the ground fighting, hampering the movement of commercial trucks and traders, and obstructing humanitarian operations.

Grand said after intense negotiations with the warring parties, the ICRC last week was able to bring a seven-truck convoy of food for more than 17,000 people into the port city of Aden.

He noted this was the first-ever distribution of emergency food rations in the city since the bombing campaign began. He said a United Nations relief convoy is en route to Aden this week, adding that he hopes it manages to get there.

Human rights

In the meantime, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Cecile Pouilly, has voiced concern about the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen, where civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

Over the past few weeks, she said, U.N. monitors in Yemen have documented human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by all sides.

“These include violations of the right to life, abduction, ill-treatment, restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, attack against humanitarian workers, medical staff and facilities, as well as journalists and media organizations," said Pouilly. "Dozens of civilians have been abducted and subjected to arbitrary detention in Sana'a.”

Pouilly said her office is deeply worried about an increasing number of attacks on places of worship, and the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure. She said humanitarian access throughout the country is severely limited, blocking peoples’ ability to get food and clean water and causing shortages of medicine and essential medical supplies.