Yemen crisis 'beyond aid system's ability to cope': MSF

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 17, 2015 10:15 AM

By Alex Whiting

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Local medical teams and aid agencies in Yemen are overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis there and the strain of keeping health services going is taking a huge toll, an international medical charity said.

The health care system is on the verge of collapse, in a country where 21.1 million people - 80 percent of the population - urgently need aid, and there is a constant threat of disease outbreaks, according to the United Nations.

Local medical teams are working round the clock, but they lack drugs and other medical supplies, as well as fuel to run their generators. Several hospitals have been forced to close.

"The situation is way beyond our ability to face (it), and it's way bigger than what the international aid system is able to cope with," Medecins Sans Frontieres' (MSF) outgoing head of mission in Yemen, Andre Heller-Perache, said in an interview.

"The scale of the crisis is growing, and as time goes on it will continue to grow," he added.

A Saudi-led alliance has been carrying out air raids in Yemen for almost three months to try to restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and repel Houthi rebels, whom they regard as proxies for their regional arch rival Iran.

The Houthis deny any military link to Tehran.

The alliance has also maintained a blockade on imports of fuel, food and medicine, in a bid to cut off arms supplies to rebel forces.

The death toll has soared since the fighting escalated in March. At least 279 children have been killed and 402 injured in the past 10 weeks - four times the number reported in the whole of 2014, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called for a two-week humanitarian ceasefire when he opened peace talks on Monday, to allow life-saving supplies into the country.

"There is this constant weight everywhere with everybody ... There's this malaise that permeates every corner of the country right now," Heller-Perache said.

LOCALS PULLING TOGETHER

Despite the difficulties, Heller-Perache saw local politicians, officials, business people and regional philanthropists working together.

Many private hospitals are now treating trauma patients free of charge, civilians and combatants alike, he added.

"Everyone's really rallying and trying to help. It's quite inspiring. But the amount of work that takes and the amount of strain it puts on people is huge," Heller-Perache said.

Heller-Perache, who was in Yemen in 2010 and 2011, and returned for two months this year, said the ongoing fighting and economic restrictions placed on the country mean Yemen is "in a slow state of collapse right now".

"You can bring some food aid to a group of people who need food, but they need more than food ... they need energy in their house, their children need to be able to go to school, people need to run their businesses," he said.

(Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)