Yemen: ‘Corpses are lying in the streets’

After more than a week of Saudi-led air strikes, the country is heading towards a major humanitarian crisis.

Buildings collapsed after Saudi-led coalition''Decisive Storm'' operation in Yemen
Around 120,000 people have been displaced from their homes since the air campaign began, according to the United Nations [Getty]
Correction7 Apr 2015
A previous version of this article said the emergency surgical unit run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), referenced in the seventh paragraph, was in Sanaa. This was incorrect. It is in Aden. The same paragraph referenced a UN report. The report was not from the UN. It was from IRIN. IRIN, previously part of the UN, is now an independent, non-profit media organisation.

Sanaa – A dispirited Saleh al-Wesabi, 31, sits with his legs folded in his brother’s house in Dar Slim, in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, recalling when an air strike destroyed his house last weekend. 

“It all began at 2:30am, when we woke up shaken by the sound of the strike,” he told Al Jazeera. “The entire neighbourhood was razed to the ground; young women and children were trapped under heavy boulders.”

Wesabi’s wife and children sustained minor injuries, and the family fled soon after to their village in Ibb province,194km south of the capital.

Wesabi is one of about 120,000 people who have been displaced from their homes since the Saudi-led campaign of air strikes began late last month, according to the United Nations.

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As the air campaign entered its second week, international organisations warned that the country was headed towards a major humanitarian crisis, affecting millions of people. 

With a population of just under 26 million people, Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country. Almost two-thirds of the population were already in need of aid before the crisis, while over 10 million are food insecure.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hoped to bring vital medical supplies and aid workers into Yemen after receiving approval from the Saudi-led military coalition. According to an IRIN report, an emergency surgical unit run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Aden has received more than 550 patients in the past two weeks. The facility is running low on space and supplies, MSF said.

There is no water, electricity; it's humid and they are attacking anyone and everyone.

by Mohammed Ali Bakili, resident

Malik Farhan, an anaesthetist at Saba’een hospital in Sanaa, said the wards had run out of medications. “The rising number of injured patients coming in hasn’t stopped,” he told Al Jazeera. “Sometimes we have to move our patients to another hospital because we don’t have enough medicines to treat them.” 

Sitara Jabeen, spokesperson for ICRC Middle East, said the country needs up to 48 tonnes of medical supplies, including surgical kits, to treat the war wounded.

“We have been trying to secure permission from the Saudi-led coalition and all parties to the conflict, since the start of the strikes. We only got clearance yesterday for one passenger and cargo plane,” she said.

Gas prices have doubled since the start of the air strikes more than 10 days ago, while food prices have risen in Sanaa by between 15 and 20 percent, according to the UN.

Fatima al-Mahweet, a mother of eight children who lives in the al-Qassimi quarter of Old Sanaa, is constantly worried about how she will provide for her young ones. “If the air strikes continue, I’m not sure how I will feed my children in two weeks,” she said.

Her 18-year-old son used to work as a security guard, earning an income of 19,000 Yemeni rials ($88) per month – an amount that covered the water and gas bills. But he was recently made redundant after the company shut down.

To balance expenses, she supplements their household fuel supply with cardboard scraps, which her sons collect from the souqs (local markets) during the day.

A gas cylinder that would cost 1,200 Yemeni rials ($5) has increased to 1,800 Yemeni rials ($8), if purchased through a government supplier. But if bought privately, the price doubles. “We are selling gas to Korea for $2, but in our own country we pay more than $11,” Mahweet told Al Jazeera.

“If they are fighting the war, why come and attack the poor people? Go to the border [Saada] and tackle the Houthis there,” she added.

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Mohammed al-Hirazi, a shop owner in Old Sanaa, said he has enough stock of wheat, rice, sugar, pasteurised milk, eggs and beans to sustain himself for a week, but if the fighting continues, he would run out of these items. He insisted people take only the essentials, noting he is already in short supply of canned tuna and fresh milk.

Amal Alnesi, a former worker at a private international oil company in Sanaa, was asked to go on a long vacation without pay or compensation. “We worked like donkeys for four years and in the end we got nothing. I have a few savings, but it will [run out] in a month,” she said.

At the al-Washali mosque in Old Sanaa, meanwhile, a long queue of people with yellow jerry cans waited to fill them up with water.

Red Cross requests Yemen ceasefire amid new air strikes

Khadijah Alrai jostles to the front and hurriedly fills up two cans before setting off with one in her arms, and the other on top of her head.

With a family of seven, she can no longer afford to buy water and comes to the mosque five times a day for refills. A 10,000 litre tank that would usually cost 4,000 Yemeni rials ($18) now costs 7,000 Yemeni rials ($33).

Even before the start of the Decisive Storm air operation, the humanitarian situation in Yemen was of grave concern to many international humanitarian organisations, including OXFAM, which warned that more than six out of every 10 Yemenis are without adequate food, clean water and access to basic services – including approximately a million children who are suffering from extreme malnutrition.

Moreover, several million Yemenis lacked easy access to clean water and basic healthcare services.

Mohammed Ali Bakili, a 73-year-old diabetic patient, is now without his insulin medicine, as he was unable to leave the house for more than 10 days. He fears his condition might worsen.

A ReliefWeb statement said more than 500 people have been killed since the start of the strikes, and nearly 1,700 injured in the past two weeks. More than 90 are children.

“There is no water, electricity; it’s humid and they are attacking anyone and everyone. Corpses are lying in the streets,” Bakili said.

Household fuel supplies are supplemented with cardboard scraps [Mohammed al-Qalisi]
Household fuel supplies are supplemented with cardboard scraps [Mohammed al-Qalisi]

Amal Suqaf, a doctor based in Aden, said the Houthi fighters targeted places of historical significance, including Seera castle, an ancient military bastion and several ancient mosques.

Retired engineer Ahmed Ali, who is in favour of the air strikes, said he has had second thoughts about the Saudi-led campaign as the civilian death toll continues to rise, along with damage inflicted on the infrastructure. “This is the money of the Yemeni people,” he said.

Ali explains that Yemen is not embroiled in a single war, but that many internal wars are being fought at once – north and south, Saudi and Iran – and it will be a long time before he will see the end of it. 

Mohammed al-Qalisi contributed to this report.

Source: Al Jazeera