Five-day pause won’t address humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen

The current five-day humanitarian pause in Yemen will not significantly ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict and the six-week-long de facto blockade, Oxfam warned today.

While the pause could offer some relief to people in desperate need, the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis can only be addressed through a permanent ceasefire that will allow access of supplies to affected communities in Yemen.

Five days will not be enough time to move food, fuel, medical supplies and other essential humanitarian aid into and around the country, where millions do not have enough to eat and Oxfam staff are finding children increasingly suffering from malnutrition.

Before the crisis began, 10 million Yemenis already did not have enough to eat. This number has now increased by 2 million as the blockade and the ongoing violence have reduced food imports to about a third of what the country actually requires. Nearly half the population does not now have enough to eat.

In Hodeida, western Yemen, one fifth of children screened by Oxfam’s Community Health Volunteers over the last 6 weeks showed signs of malnourishment. But due to the lack of fuel for transportation many are unable to reach specialised clinics, and others who do are faced with clinics unable to offer the treatment needed. These children are at risk of developing grave symptoms if sufficient medical and vital supplies are not allowed into the country.

Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director, said: “Life in Yemen is intolerable at the moment: if the violence doesn’t get you, you still face a struggle to survive. You don’t know when you will have your next meal, water and medicines are in short supply and you can’t sleep due to the constant bombing. Over 300,000 people have fled their homes – including many of our staff who are assisting their fellow displaced Yemenis.

“The lack of fuel means that agencies such as Oxfam have only been able to operate a third of our vehicles. What the country urgently needs is a permanent ceasefire, one that lets food, fuel, and medical supplies in sufficient quantities to meet the growing needs of the people."
 
Oxfam staff in Sana’a reported longer queues at bakeries, grocery stores and markets. “In spite of the ongoing violence, people are now queuing night and day,” Ommer explained. “They know that supplies have run out, but they wait and hope that a shipment comes in while they’re in line, and maybe - just maybe - they’ll get a little bit of something to keep them going.”

Aid delivery remains a challenge and our staff continue to operate in extremely difficult circumstances, even while the pause is in effect. As fighting continues unabated in parts of the country, millions of Yemenis are spending their sixth week cut off from the vital supplies they now desperately need.

Access to health facilities has been severely curtailed by the lack of fuel and the impact on transport. Oxfam staff reported the story of one 15 year old boy, Mohammed, living in Aden, who was on his way to the mosque when he was shot by a sniper. The fighting was too heavy to move him to the hospital and there was in any case no fuel to take him by ambulance. He died four hours later of his wounds. His distraught mother Bothoor said: “A mother should never have to see her son die before his time. I was completely helpless and could not help him as he bled to death beside me.”

Oxfam is currently working with UNICEF and local water companies to maintain a basic water supply to more than 1 million people in and around Aden. Oxfam is also providing water tanks, sanitation and hygiene kits and cash for food and for work to 82,000 people hit hard by the conflict in Hodeidah and Hajja Governorates.

The fighting in Yemen has already claimed over 1400 lives, mostly civilians, and injured more than 5,000.

Notes to editors

  • Over the past six weeks, Oxfam’s Community Health Volunteers in Hodeida, Western Yemen, have referred almost 2,000 children (6 percent of total screened) to specialized clinics because of apparent signs that they are severely malnourished, with another 5,000 (15.6 percent of children screened) apparently moderately malnourished.
  • The situation in cities such as Hodeidah has continued to deteriorate with armed gangs now setting up checkpoints, robbing banks, attacking state buildings and carrying out assassinations in the market places. The whole population is suffering sleep deprivation due to the excessive heat, while the sewage and rubbish rotting in the streets have become a health hazard, exacerbated by families exposed to mosquitoes as they sleep in the open to stay cool.

Contact information

Dannielle Taaffe, UK, desk +44-1865-339-162, mobile: +44-7917-110-066, dannielle.taaffe@oxfaminternational.org

Imad Aoun, Beirut, mobile: +961 71 333459, IAoun@oxfam.org.uk