An escalation in fighting in Yemen in the past weeks, culminating in a deadly air raid on a funeral ceremony on 8 October has brought renewed efforts to open the door to peace talks. And while Britain is planning to put a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire, the reality for the Yemeni population is continuing violence and terror.
- 2.4 million people internally displaced in Yemen
- 19 killed in Saudi airstrike on Abs hospital; MSF forced to partially withdraw services
- An estimated 250,000 living under siege in East Aleppo, Syria
"Before an airstrike, there is a whistling noise. The reaction is automatic: find shelter…. Bombs are being dropped in Yemen on a regular basis and this is how everyone lives."
In Syria, the three month siege of east Aleppo and the relentless bombing over the past month, are taking a deadly toll on the estimated 250,000 people trapped in the besieged area. There are only 35 doctors remaining and seven hospitals still functioning, according to the Directorate of Health. A temporary ceasefire was announced by the Syrian and Russian forces on 20 October, but no civilians were evacuated given the poor security situation. Fighting has resumed, leaving the population with dwindling supplies and little access to health care. Since the beginning of the siege in July, hospitals have been hit 26 times, and not a single hospital has survived the bombing intact during this period.
In Yemen, Taiz has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the escalation of the conflict began 18 months ago, with shelling, airstrikes, bomb blasts, landmine explosions and sniper fire happening every day. Fighting and shelling takes place in densely populated parts of the city. None of the warring parties appear to be making an effort to prevent casualties among civilians. In Taiz alone, MSF has treated more than 10,000 war-wounded cases since July last year, 934 were in August 2016 alone. The patients MSF sees there suffer mainly from injuries due to airstrikes, bomb blasts, shelling, gunshots, snipers and, more recently, landmines. Fifty to sixty per cent of the patients that MSF treats in Taiz are civilians.
Hospitals are no longer places of safety; the WHO reports that escalation of the conflict in Yemen has resulted in the damage and destruction of over 99 health facilities. MSF, whose teams struggle on a daily basis to ensure the respect of health facilities by all combatants, has had patients and staff bombed in its facilities four times this year. Five people were killed and 10 injured at Shiara Hospital in Northern Yemen when it was hit by a projectile on 10 January this year. Nine people were wounded at an MSF health facility in Taiz on 3 December 2015 when it was hit by the SLC. Haydan hospital was destroyed by an airstrike by the SLC on 26 October 2015.
MSF systematically shares the GPS coordinates of its medical facilities to all parties in any conflict. In Yemen this included the Saudi-led coalition. On 27 May, the Saudi government issued a statement asserting that coalition forces “have fully complied with international humanitarian law and international human rights law in their military operations.” The statement noted that, “where claims about targeting of civilians [or] civilian facilities…are made, investigations are conducted by a separate and distinct investigation team established at Coalition Air Force [headquarters].” However, only very limited details of any investigations have been shared with MSF. Furthermore, on 15 August, Abs hospital in Hajjah governorate north western Yemen, pictured above, was destroyed by a Saudi airstrike that killed 19 people and injured 24. The blast immediately killed nine people, including an MSF staff member. MSF has released reports documenting in detail the events surrounding the Taiz and Abs bombings and the security measures taken to protect the neutrality of these facilities.
The lack of credible reassurances of security for medical staff and facilities has forced MSF to withdraw services from six hospitals in northern Yemen, services which are desperately needed by an increasingly vulnerable population. It is now estimated that 80 per cent of Yemen’s population of 26 million require some form of assistance.
In East Aleppo in Syria, four hospitals and one of the remaining 11 ambulances in the city were hit on 14 October, leaving at least two doctors injured and one ambulance driver dead. At least 62 people died and 467 people, including 98 children were wounded between 11–14 October. Medical organisations in Aleppo report that ‘double tap’ strikes now occur on a regular basis, where war planes return to the site of an attack a second time, just as rescue teams reach the area. MSF continues to support the eight hospitals in east Aleppo, but the security situation means that there is no way of evacuating the seriously sick and wounded and no way in for the essential medical supplies that are so desperately needed.
The prospects for peace in both Syria and Yemen are clearly mired in the quicksand of regional and global power struggles and realpolitik. Humanitarian champions must not allow this to prevent real gains in humanitarian access and protection even whilst war rages on. It is during war that humanitarian norms are truly tested and when the defenders of humanitarian standards must step up.
For more information on the recent attacks on hospitals see #NotATarget.