CAIRO - Saudi Arabia says it will ease the blockade of rebel-controlled areas of Yemen to evacuate people wounded in a deadly airstrike at a funeral. However, if more emergency humanitarian aid is not allowed into Yemen, according to analysts, many of its people may soon face famine.
“It is getting worse and worse each and every day,” said Peter Salisbury, an associate fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Britain-based research organization Chatham House.
The Yemen war includes multiple militias fighting within loose alliances, and many of the groups have very different goals. With airports and ports largely closed, moving aid, like food and water, into many parts of the country has become increasingly difficult.
Aid organizations say half of all Yemeni people are malnourished and 80 percent of the people are in urgent need of food and other kinds of aid.
“Unless food and water can be allowed first to flow freely into the country, and secondly flow freely across the country regardless of which military groups are where, there’s a real danger that parts of Yemen will descend into famine in the very near future,” said Salisbury.
On Saturday, airstrikes hit a funeral in the capital, Sana’a, killing 140 people and wounding more than 500. Saudi state media Wednesay announced a plan to “facilitate and transfer” the wounded in need of treatment. Officials in Yemen's Houthi government say 300 people are in critical condition and place the blame on the Saudi-led coalition, which initially denied responsibility for the strike.
Medical treatment in Yemen right now, according to Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni journalist and blogger speaking to VOA from Sweden, is almost non-existent.
“Life is getting very, very harsh in many, many parts of Yemen,” she said. Members of her family, like about a million other Yemeni people, tried to flee Yemen but later returned, finding few resources available in nearby African countries.
“The prices of food are skyrocketing and medicine is becoming very seldom,” she added. “And hospitals? Forget about hospitals. You can go and they are empty. They cannot help you.”
Escalating and ignored
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed since the coalition began airstrikes on Houthi-held territories in Yemen 18 months ago. Most of the dead were civilians, and most of the civilians were killed in airstrikes.
When the coalition began bombing, Houthi rebels and their allies were already embroiled in a civil war with the Saudi-backed government they ousted from the Yemeni capital.
The war is fueled by the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the latter supporting the Houthis. Iran is not openly involved but observers fear an escalation of the war could prompt a more direct confrontation between the two regional giants.
On Sunday, missiles, assumed by many to have been launched by Houthi rebels, failed to hit a U.S. warship and Saudi Arabia reported a rocket attack from Yemen on its soil. Officials from both countries have called for retaliation.
“If this were to erupt into a true proxy war,” said Salisbury from Chatham House, “If Iran, for example, were to decide that it wanted to lend genuinely large amounts of resources to the conflict, then that would have much wider regional repercussions.”
“The human cost would be phenomenal,” he added.
After the funeral strike caused international outrage, the United States promised to review its support for the coalition. Saudi Arabia said it would investigate the attack.
Conflict of interest
The fact that Saudi Arabia is conducting its own investigation without independent observers is further evidence of Western complicity in human rights abuses and war crimes in Yemen, according to Yemeni political analyst and journalist in Sana’a, Nasser Arrabyee.
“It is the most dangerous thing,” he said. “They disregard the U.N. laws, the international laws, the humanitarian laws, the human rights laws and everything, and just believe what Saudi Arabia wants or what Saudi Arabia says. This is a very dangerous thing, not [just for] Yemenis but for every human.”
Yemen’s war is often described as a “forgotten war,” added Farah Nasser in Sweden. The country is isolated and foreign media have mostly fled; but, with many parties benefiting from lucrative arms contracts and powerful regional alliances, she said, in reality the war is “deliberately ignored.”