Researchers: Saudi-led coalition is responsible for Yemen’s health crisis

Children are dying of starvation in Yemen. [@NRC_Norway/Twitter]

Severe food and medical shortages caused by two years of devastating war are having a major impact on everyday life in Yemen, where thousands of children starve to death, researchers have warned, pointing out the responsibility of Saudi Arabia.

Internal strains afflicting both sides in Yemen’s conflict have deepened, as the UN warned on Monday (20 August) that the failure of the country’s political elites to settle their differences has prolonged the suffering of millions already beset by famine and disease.

In a briefing on Sunday (19 August), UN envoy to Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the intractable two-year-old conflict was exposing ordinary people to death and hardship.

Top United Nations officials warned violence in Yemen was worsening and greater access was needed to the Houthi rebel-held north, particularly through the key Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien slammed Yemen’s government and a Saudi-led military coalition for “unilaterally denying or excessively delaying entry to vessels carrying essential cargo” to the port.

The United Nations has worked to avert attacks on Hodeidah port, where around 80% of Yemen’s food imports arrive.

The Saudi-led coalition, which has destroyed several cranes at Hodeidah port in air strikes, has accused the Houthis, the rebels fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, of using the port to smuggle weapons and ammunition. The Houthi movement denies the allegations.

The coalition began an air campaign in March 2015 to help the Yemen government defeat the Iran-allied Houthis. Al-Qaeda has exploited the conflict to try to deepen its influence in Yemen, repeatedly launching bomb and gun attacks. The United States regards al-Qaeda in Yemen as one of the deadliest branches of the militant network.

Yemen’s cholera epidemic – the largest in the world.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the majority of deaths from Yemen’s cholera outbreak have occurred in rebel-controlled areas cut off from supplies due to airstrikes and blockades by a Saudi-led military coalition, according to research published on Friday.

The study by London’s Queen Mary University found eight out of 10 cholera deaths took place in regions controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have fought a two-year war against Saudi-aligned forces backing Yemen’s government.

Yemen is battling against the “world’s worst cholera outbreak”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

More than half a million people have been infected with cholera since the epidemic began four months ago and almost 2,000 people have died, the WHO said on Monday.

“Saudi-led airstrikes have destroyed vital infrastructure, including hospitals and public water systems, hit civilian areas, and displaced people into crowded and insanitary conditions”, Jonathan Kennedy, Andrew Harmer and David McCoy, the study’s researchers, wrote.

The Saudi ministry for foreign affairs did not immediately respond to written questions or telephone calls.

The study compared data from the WHO with maps of government-controlled and rebel-controlled areas.

The researchers found 78% of cholera cases and 81% of deaths from cholera occurred in Houthi-controlled regions. Only 10.4% of deaths occurred in government-controlled areas.

The researchers said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for the deadly outbreak, by causing shortages of food, medical supplies, fuel and chlorine, and restricting humanitarian access.

Each day there are more than 5,000 new cases of cholera, which causes acute diarrhea and dehydration, in Yemen where the health system has collapsed after more than two years of war, according to the WHO.

Cholera, spread by ingestion of food or water tainted with human faeces, can kill within hours if untreated. It has been largely eradicated in developed countries equipped with sanitation systems and water treatment.