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Yemen Faces Humanitarian Catastrophe

FILE - People salvage belongings from a government bank that was hit during an air strike in Yemen's northwestern city of Saada April 16, 2015.
FILE - People salvage belongings from a government bank that was hit during an air strike in Yemen's northwestern city of Saada April 16, 2015.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the humanitarian situation in Yemen is nothing short of catastrophic. The Red Cross reports since Saudi Arabia launched its air campaign on March 26, violence has escalated and conditions for millions of civilians in Yemen have dramatically deteriorated.

The head of ICRC operations for the Near and Middle East, Robert Mardini, has just returned from a three-day visit to the capital, Sana’a, and bears witness to the grim reality of life in Yemen. He says the resilience of the Yemeni people has been eroded to the breaking point and that people are ill equipped to cope with the current situation and its aftermath.

“Nowhere is safe in Yemen today," he said. "Nearly a month of death and destruction after years of crisis leaves little hope for Yemenis to lead a normal life. At least 50 people were killed and 200 wounded every day since 26 March. The recent reports we got from our teams from Aden, Sana'a and Taiz are alarming. Tens of thousands have been displaced and sought shelter in schools and mosques … hundreds have been arrested.”

Property, infrastructure damage

Mardini describes the damage to property and infrastructure by the airstrikes and ground fighting as absolutely shocking. He says indiscriminate shootings are a constant threat to the entire population. He also says aid workers and ambulances are under attack, noting that three Red Crescent volunteers have been killed and two wounded in the line of duty since March 26.

He says many hospitals are open, but lack medicines and medical staff as the number of wounded is rising. He says millions of people are short of basic goods and services. They lack food, water, fuel and drugs - and this is leading to soaring prices for the most basic commodities.

Despite the many hardships and multiple threats facing its staff, Mardini says the ICRC will not be deterred from carrying out its humanitarian operations. He says the Red Cross plans to scale up its activities.

"We made the deliberate choice to keep our teams present and operational since 26 March," he explained. "Going forward, we will pursue our efforts and further reinforce our presence and action. We will continue to act as a neutral intermediary to ensure safe movement of trapped civilians. We will continue our support to hospitals and health structures. We will do more to meet peoples’ need for food and water. We will continue to work with the local water authorities to keep the water flowing and backup power facilities running.”

Appeal for emergency response

The International Committee of the Red Cross is launching a preliminary $15 million appeal to cover this emergency response. This is in addition to the nearly $29 million it has already budgeted for its operations in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has said it is ending its airstrikes in Yemen. Mardini says this offers a glimmer of hope, if confirmed, adding that military action will not achieve peace, only a political solution could do that. As of now, he says, he is not very optimistic about the outlook for Yemen and its beleaguered population.