International organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned about cases of cholera in Yemen and we cannot ignore these warnings or underestimate them. Yemen is experiencing the worst crisis in half a century. A UNICEF representative in Yemen said that the international organisation had warned of the risk of starvation even before the outbreak of war in the country. International organisations have also warned of the risk of future famine and epidemics as a result of a lack of water fit for human use.
The situation in Yemen in the past was bad, and the current situation is catastrophic. With the fall of the capital Sana’a to the militias, the country disintegrated and there is no longer an administrative system that international organisations can rely upon to examine the humanitarian situation and deliver food and medical aid.
Collective action is required to stop the disease from becoming an epidemic that threatens the safety of millions of people and from spreading to an extent that international organisations will be unable to fight it later.
The emergence of cases of cholera and other serious diseases is the result of the inhumane conditions that Yemenis are living in because of the war. Even before the war, there was a shortage in medical supplies during the rule of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh which lasted for nearly four decades. Saleh did not develop Yemen’s infrastructure during that time, and the country lived on aid provided by governments and the generosity of various organisations that visited each year to provide vaccines and operate mobile hospitals.
With the outbreak of war, the situation has become more difficult, especially in areas controlled by the rebels, specifically the Houthis who prevent relief organisations from visiting stricken areas and delivering aid to them. The situation is less critical in areas under the administration of the legitimate government that amount to more than a third of the country as a result of relief that the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to provide.
What can be done for the millions of Yemenis who are cut off from the world and are in areas controlled by Houthi militias and those loyal to the former president Saleh? Unfortunately, there are not many options and it may be best to refer the activity of aid institutions to organisations affiliated with the UN and to other international organisations that are acceptable to both parties.
Considering that these operations aim to provide humanitarian relief, donors will not discriminate, even though we know that this will not be an easy task. According to a volunteer’s account of military affairs on the ground, the Houthis in particular have prevented foreign relief convoys from entering Yemen, and we cannot do anything about it. I asked him whether the Houthis are doing this in order to bargain. He said that he does not understand their reasons because preventing aid does not benefit them much as there is nothing to haggle over, and that the situation is completely different to prisoner exchanges.
He believes that the Houthis are indifferent to the matter of providing treatment, perhaps due to their ignorance of their duties according to the international rules of engagement. He explained that the areas that suffer the most are the ones that are hostile to the Houthis and that have been seized by them. He said that “They are punishing (these areas) by depriving them of communication and starving them”.
There are many deprived areas as a result of the war and the bad economic situation that has lasted for years. Yemen is experiencing a humanitarian tragedy that is growing with time and there should be no discrimination in the provision of humanitarian aid. Yemen is a neighbouring country and our responsibility towards it is a big one. Both governments and peoples must take action in order to save it.
It is the Yemenis’ bad luck that they got rid of the old and unfair regime only to fall into the clutches of the merciless militias. This absurd war could have been avoided if they accepted the political system that the UN and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) set the rules for and which gave everyone the right to participate in governance. Unfortunately, the ousted president succeeded in sabotaging the new system in order to prevent anyone from ruling after him, and the Houthis allied with him out of their greed for power.
Despite all of this, the whole world has no choice but to work together in order to stop the tragedy by securing assistance to millions of Yemenis who are threatened by hunger and disease.