The outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen said Friday he believes that more people are dying from indirect effects of the conflict now than from bombing, shelling and ground attacks.
Alexandre Faite pointed to more than 2,000 deaths from cholera and acute watery diarrhea in a little more than six months, a crumbling health system, almost no power in most towns, and the absence of key commodities or their availability only at very high prices.
He told a small group of reporters Friday that he has been traveling to capitals including Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Washington to deliver the message that “the situation in Yemen and the results of indirect effects of the hostilities are really dire.”
With the high death toll from cholera, Faite said, “I would personally think ... that now more people are dying from the indirect effect of the hostilities.”
Years of civil war
Civil war in Yemen began six months after Houthi Shiite rebels and their allies seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. A Saudi-led coalition has been trying to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government to power, but the conflict is stalemated, with the Houthis still in control of Sanaa and much of the north.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Tuesday that Yemen remains “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” with three-quarters of the population, more than 22 million people, urgently needing humanitarian help including 8.4 million struggling to find their next meal.
Before the war, Yemen relied on imports for 90 percent of its staple food, medicine and fuel, but Lowcock said delays at ports and shortages have led to sharp increases in the price of food and household necessities, forcing hundreds of thousands of destitute families to turn to humanitarian aid to survive.
Faite said “humanitarian aid will not be the solution.”
“Economic life is key,” he said. “A country cannot run on humanitarian assistance. ... What is also vitally important is that commercial items, imports, commercial life, is really allowed to resume.”
Faite said it’s critically important that political and military authorities allow essential goods into all areas of Yemen.
Aid must get in
“The conduct of military operations is bad enough,” Faite said, but the indirect effects of the war on Yemen’s crumbling infrastructure, the failure to pay health workers, teachers and civil servants, “is really impacting the life of the everyday Yemeni.”
As an example of the dire situation, Faite said, the ICRC is supporting six kidney dialysis centers in the north where no others are functioning, and it also has been providing insulin to Yemenis with diabetes.
For people whose lives depend on this, if “you don’t get it one week, the next week you will not be around,” he said.
The war has also damaged power plants and it’s estimated that only 10 percent of Yemenis have access to power in towns and cities, Faite said. So generators are crucial not only for electricity but to run pumping stations for water supplies.
He said the ICRC and the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, have joined forces so that when there’s a breakdown “we repair the pumps, they repair the generators of the pumping stations.”
“If this was not done with UNICEF providing the fuel, it’s not very clear if there would be running water in the city, if there would be running water at all,” Faite said.
Faite said all parties need to sit down to see what can be done to speed up commercial shipping, especially in the northern port of Hodeida.