When the guns fell silent
BEIRUT - Weeks of intense fighting and unrelenting air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have caused a serious humanitarian crisis in Yemen, necessitating the fragile truce, which went into effect May 12th.
The five-day ceasefire was meant to allow relief organisations the chance to deliver badly needed food, water and fuel to hospitals and the war-afflicted population.
In previous weeks, aid agencies described the situation as “catastrophic”.
Some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have been killed and more than 5,000 wounded, since coalition air strikes started March 26th, according to UN estimates. More than 100,000 people have been displaced.
In a country that relies almost entirely on imports, the uninterrupted fighting in Yemen has caused severe shortages in food, water and fuel, affecting the whole population of 24 million. Hospitals, overwhelmed by casualties, were unable to function properly without fuel to run generators and pump water, leaving many of the wounded without treatment. People were trapped in conflict zones, unable to flee without fuel for their vehicles.
The fighting made it almost impossible for humanitarian organisations and UN relief agencies to deliver urgent assistance.
“The need today is for a real, sustainable and repeated humanitarian pause to the hostilities, so people can breathe and leave to safer places,” Marie Claire Feghali, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Sana’a, told The Arab Weekly.
“The suffering is tremendous. People queue up for everything: bread, fuel, cooking gas, water… Food prices have skyrocketed, in a country where the population was already too poor.”
The truce was proposed by Saudi Arabia and accepted by the Houthi rebels under the condition that it was respected by all sides.
“The truce should imply that fuel, food and medication can enter the country and be distributed wherever they are needed, and not only to specific areas,” Feghali said, stressing that hospitals should be able to function in a safe environment and medical and health workers be respected and not be targeted by belligerents.
A lot of work awaits international aid organisations according to ICRC’s Sitara Jabeen in Geneva.
“The past six weeks of non-stop fighting have been devastating for the country’s services and infrastructure and it will take weeks if not months to provide (the needed) emergency response,” Jabeen told The Arab Weekly.
Saudi Arabia said it was establishing a centre to coordinate humanitarian assistance for Yemen and invited the United Nations to join in the relief work.
There are 22 UAE ships loaded with relief aid waiting to enter Yemeni ports, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a television interview on May 10th.