FLINT, Michigan — Since 2015, there has been constant conflict in Yemen, a country to the south of Saudi Arabia. Between tensions with the Iranian-backed Houthis and Saudi-backed coalition forces, Yemen has become the country with the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. Yemen was already one of the lowest-income countries, but its underdeveloped status has only been exacerbated because of these conflicts. Because of this, half of the medical facilities throughout the country shut down, causing a decrease in access to healthcare in Yemen.
The Conflict in Yemen
Back in 2014, a group of Shiite rebels from the Houthi tribe took control of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. This group staged an insurgence over the presidential palace, causing the president and his staff to resign and give power to the Houthis. Then, starting in March 2015, Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and the United States began launching airstrikes against the Houthis in Sana’a.
Several countries around the world have established themselves on either side of the conflict. Countries, like Iran, have sided with the Houthi rebels and send them shipments of weapons. However, some countries, like the U.S., have led airstrikes against the Houthis, with as many as 130 conducted in 2017 alone. Since the first airstrike in 2015, the conflict has not ceased, and it has had devastating impacts on the civilians in Yemen.
The Healthcare Crisis
Not only has war torn apart the country, but so have diseases. In 2017, an outbreak of cholera affected over one million people and caused thousands of deaths. Only 45% of hospitals were in operation. Since then, the number of hospitals has continued to decrease. Airstrikes against the Houthi occupation destroyed numerous medical facilities. This has led to a significant decrease in Yemen’s healthcare system.
According to Physicians for Human Rights, warring sides of the conflict have taken over medical facilities and services. The groups have excluded members of the population from having access to medical care and assaulted and abused medical professionals. UNICEF reported that one child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen, and 24 million people need humanitarian assistance.
Moreover, the military blockade by Saudi Arabia on land, sea and airports has drastically impacted the healthcare crisis in Yemen. This blockade has prevented the arrival of new shipments of medicine to Yemen, and increased market prices for medicine. Additionally, food, clean water and appropriate healthcare services are inaccessible to more than 80% of Yemeni people. As a result, the population is far more susceptible to diseases because the people lack access to resources that can help.
Efforts to Fight for Healthcare
Although the outlook for sick Yemenis seems dire, aid organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), are offering assistance. The ICRC is supplying what little healthcare facilities there are in Yemen with emergency supplies to help the wounded. During the beginning of 2018, more than 500,000 Yemenis were given relief aid by the ICRC. Furthermore, access to clean water was provided for more than two million people.
Physicians for Human Rights reported that the destruction of healthcare facilities violates international humanitarian law. Violations of these laws are considered war crimes. International humanitarian law prohibits the destruction of facilities and medical personnel during a conflict. Because of this, military commanders and civilian leaders that instigated the destruction of such facilities may be charged with war crime charges. With the help of an extensive document compiled by Physicians for Human Rights that details and investigates the destruction of medical facilities, the offenders of these humanitarian laws could be held responsible for their actions against medical personnel and the sick.
The struggle for adequate healthcare in Yemen is a pressing issue that is causing the deaths of thousands of innocent lives. Humanitarian organizations are taking measures to help those in need, but there is still much more that needs to be done. Humanitarian aid is needed now more than ever to help hold those responsible for such destruction.
– Allie Degner