In six days, February 3-8, there have been two successful relief flights for critically injured Yemenis in a devastating civil conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people. These are the first such civilian evacuations since 2016 in the five-year-long war.
On February 3, eight seriously wounded patients and their families were airlifted to Egypt and Jordan. On February 8, 24 seriously ill Yemenis also were evacuated by air to Jordan from Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. U.N. resident coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said after the initial rescue: “This is the first of what we hope will be a number of flights in the medical air bridge.”
The World Health Organization said the medical air bridge operations are expected to continue with three rescue missions a week. A coalition of Gulf Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, had launched attacks against the rebel Houthis in Yemen, with U.S. air support, to expel the Houthis. But the rebels have held Sanaa and most of Northern Yemen and prevented civilian aircraft from leaving the country’s main airport in the capital city since 2015.
The U.N has ranked the Yemen civil war as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the rebel Houthis have declared that are as many as 32,000 patients with serious injuries. The war’s death toll has been officially estimated at more than 94,000, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Project published last year.
Fighting was somewhat reduced in the waning months of 2019 but resumed in late January and earlier this month. Mohammed Abdi, the Norwegian Council representative in Yemen, said after the first airlift February 3 that the resumption of the airlift “comes too late for thousands of Yemenis who died waiting to leave the country for urgent life-saving care.” WHO reports that many survivors have advanced cancer and brain tumors, or need organ transplants and reconstructive surgery,
The Associated Press reported that among those airlifted to Amman on February 8 was a 30-year-old cancer patient named Entisar. WHO said her cancer had spread throughout her body. It quoted her as saying: “The physical and psychological pain is unbearable… all I want is to feel better.”
Is a permanent ceasefire possible? According to AP in a dispatch, last November, Saudi Arabia and the Houthis are holding indirect, behind-the-scenes talks to end the war, with Oman as the mediator. Both the Saudis and rebels are involved.
Advocates of quiet diplomacy, even public diplomacy, might also be encouraged by the lack of a major air attack by the United States, Saudi or Houthi-allied sources on their opponents in the Arabian peninsula in slightly more than a month. This pause may augur well for continuing negotiations among the legal, established Yemen government, the Saudis and the Houthis.
But as the Washington Post reported February 10, the Trump administration “is considering suspending much of its humanitarian assistance to Yemen as part of an international response to new restrictions imposed by the Iran-linked Houthi rebels.” The reason: a possible two percent “tax” on assistance projects and unspecified other measures by the Houthis in areas of the country it controls.
Donor countries and aid groups are holding an imminent meeting to determine a coordinated response. According to the Post, Washington provided $746 million in assistance to Yemen in the fiscal year which ended last September 30. It quotes humanitarian officials as saying that donor countries must ensure that taxpayer-funded is properly delivered. But they are also concerned that large-scale aid suspensions will endanger Yemeni civilians caught up in the conflict.
The facts speak for themselves. The U.N. currently gives food assistance to more than 12 million Yemenis each month. Fighting, reduced commerce, and economic upheaval, the Post noted, have all contributed to widespread hunger and disease in the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) did not respond to numerous Post requests about the possible holdup of aid to Yemen. But it did say that the aid agency expects “all U.S. assistance to be provided without hindrance to those for whom it is intended… who continue to bear the brunt of this conflict.”
Isn’t it time to say “enough is enough?” Yemen experienced many years of turmoil before the civil war began in July 2014. Now, there appears to be something of a pause. As the Christian Science Monitor said in an editorial February 4:
“The recognition of the innocence of civilians in a conflict area is a powerful concept for peace. When a war zone like Yemen sees the idea in action, it is a moment to celebrate. It means saving lives is becoming more important than killing foes.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More