Saudi delays to Yemen aid killing children as famine looms – Save the Children

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Yasmine*, seven, was brought into al-Sabeen Children’s Hospital in Sana’a, Yemen, suffering from cholera. Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies are delaying Save the Children’s shipments of aid for Yemen by months, despite a looming famine that threatens to grip much of the country and a healthcare system on the brink of collapse.

Children have died as a result of recent delays, with hundreds of thousands of people denied access to urgently-needed medical aid, the charity is warning.

In just the first two months of this year, the Saudi-led coalition prevented three of the charity’s shipments of life-saving medical supplies from landing at the country’s main port of Hodeida, forcing them to be rerouted and delaying their arrival by up to three months.

The three shipments were carrying enough aid to help 300,000 people – including antibiotics, surgical equipment, medicine to treat diseases like malaria and cholera, and supplies to support malnourished children.

The delays prevented 51 healthcare facilities supported by Save the Children from functioning fully, and left mobile health teams unable to bring assistance to rural locations that lack health services.

In the most recent case, a two-tonne shipment of Save the Children’s medical supplies and equipment for nearly 40,000 people, including 14,000 children under the age of 5, was due to land in Hodeida on December 2nd 2016. It eventually arrived in the smaller port of Aden 83 days later – after being held off the coast of Hodeida and then forced to reroute by the Saudi-led coalition. From Aden, supplies often have to cross active conflict lines via land routes, putting both the supplies and humanitarian staff at risk.

Grant Pritchard, Interim Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen, said:

“These delays are killing children. Our teams are dealing with outbreaks of cholera, and children suffering from diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition. With the right medicines these are all completely treatable – but the Saudi-led coalition is stopping them getting in. They are turning aid and commercial supplies into weapons of war.”

The coalition has also recently refused access for four new cranes supplied by the World Food Programme, which would have vastly improved the ability of Hodeida to unload essential supplies from vessels that manage to make it into port.

Yemen relies on imports to Hodeida for supplies of humanitarian aid, fuel and food, including 90 percent of its supplies of wheat.

The port has been unable to function fully after airstrikes destroyed five cranes in August 2015 – and escalating fighting has further prevented ships from unloading quickly, forcing them to wait offshore.

It is now becoming increasingly difficult to find commercial shipping companies willing to make the journey to Hodeida port for fear they may spend weeks waiting off the coast with no guarantee they will be able to unload their cargo.

Pritchard added:

“These WFP-supplied cranes are a temporary but simple solution to the problems at Hodeida. Without them, imports of fuel, food and humanitarian aid will continue to be held in limbo offshore. It is outrageous that Yemen’s largest port continues to face a de facto blockade as millions of Yemenis face starvation.”

Seven million people are facing severe food shortages in Yemen. More than two million children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, including nearly half a million who are the most extreme level and in critical danger. Nine areas of the country, including Hodeida, are categorised at IPC-4, just one level below famine.

More than half of the health facilities assessed in 16 of the 22 assessed governorates in Yemen are closed or partially functioning due to the conflict, leaving over 14.8 million people in need of basic healthcare – including 8.1 million children.

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