Yemen: Immediate 24-hour humanitarian pause needed to bring in medical help

04 April 2015

Sana'a / Geneva – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is alarmed by the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen and calls for an immediate humanitarian pause. All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide.

Despite intensive efforts and repeated contact in the last week with all sides, it has not yet been possible to bring in desperately needed medical supplies and personnel.

"We urgently need an immediate halt to the fighting, to allow families in the worst affected areas, such as Aden, to venture out to get food and water, or to seek medical care," said Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC's operations in the Near and Middle East. "Our relief supplies and surgical personnel must be allowed to enter the country and safely reach the worst-affected places to provide help. Otherwise, put starkly, many more people will die. For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days."

Hospitals and clinics treating the streams of wounded from across much of Yemen are running low on life-saving medicines and equipment. In many parts of the country, the population is also suffering from fuel and water shortages, while food stocks are quickly depleting. Dozens of people are being killed and wounded every day. The streets of Aden are strewn with dead bodies, and people are afraid to leave their homes.

Over 48 tonnes of urgently needed medicines and surgical kits – enough to treat 2,000 to 3,000 people – are ready to leave for Yemen by boat and plane, pending clearance. The ICRC is also ready to dispatch tents, generators, and supplies to repair the damaged water network. A four-person surgical team is on standby in Djibouti awaiting deployment to the southern port city of Aden.

Cedric Schweizer, who heads the 300-strong ICRC team in Yemen, said that medical teams and rescue workers in Yemen must be allowed to work safely: "They are endeavouring to take the wounded to hospital and retrieve the dead bodies from the streets of Aden in particular so that families can lay their loved ones to rest and give them proper burials."

Tragically, three Yemen Red Crescent volunteers have lost their lives in the last week in targeted attacks while coming to the aid of people who had been wounded in fighting. This deadly pattern must stop immediately.

The people of Yemen have endured years of conflict, drought and insecurity, which has eroded their resilience and left them particularly vulnerable to the human, economic and environmental impact of this latest upsurge in fighting. Their situation has now become unbearable, and they cannot afford any further delays in getting relief supplies.

Under international humanitarian law, humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach those in need. Armed forces and groups must not deliberately impede the delivery of relief supplies. Even people under the control of opposition groups are entitled to receive food and medicines vital for their survival.

International humanitarian law also imposes an obligation on parties to a conflict to respect medical neutrality and to grant medical personnel, equipment and vehicles safe passage. The law also requires them to allow civilians who wish to leave a conflict zone to do so safely.

On top of its emergency response in the first week since air strikes began, in recent days the ICRC has delivered medical supplies to hospitals in the central Shabwah province, and mattresses and blankets to hospitals in Taiz and Sana'a. Three ICRC-supported limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation centres in Sana'a, Taiz and Mukalla stand ready to continue their work in the longer term.

For further information, please contact:
Marie Claire Feghali, ICRC Sana'a, tel: +967 71 194 4343, sat phone: +8821621116248
Sitara Jabeen, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 78 or +41 79 536 92 31