News

Yemen’s health system buckles under Saudi led bombardment and blockade

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3549 (Published 29 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3549
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. 1Montreal

Yemen has ground to a halt and faces a humanitarian catastrophe under the twin pressures of war and blockade, say the United Nations and the Red Cross and other international aid agencies.

The country’s health system is in a state of collapse, with at least 158 medical facilities completely shut down, Unicef has reported, and many more operating with little or no electricity.

After three months of Saudi bombing, and with street fighting between contending Yemeni forces, at least 2800 people have been killed and 12 500 wounded. But away from the direct violence it is the naval blockade imposed by the Saudi led coalition that is hurting the most.

The mostly Saudi and Egyptian warships enforcing the blockade are charged with denying alleged attempts by Iran to deliver arms to the Houthi militia, an armed group of the Shi’ite Zaidi sect that overthrew the government in February. But the blockade has actually turned away 80% of commercial shipping from a country heavily dependent on imports for daily survival.

UK military support

The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, promised in March to support the Saudi effort in “every practical way short of engaging in combat,” and the UK has provided many of the bombs dropped on Yemen. But the UK government has become concerned about the effects of the blockade and has urged its coalition partners to focus on “intelligence driven” interdictions only of ships suspected of carrying weapons, though so far to no avail.

A spokesman for the US Department of State said that it continued “to urge all sides, including the Saudis, to exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary violence. We also urge all parties to allow the entry and delivery of urgently needed food, medicine, fuel, and other necessary assistance.” Accelerated US arms sales …

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