Perspectives on Geopolitics, History, and Political Economy

Yemen’s Health Crisis is “Critical,” Says WHO

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2016 (IPS) – The health situation in Yemen has severely deteriorated and is critical, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported.

The conflict, which is now entering its second year, has devastated the country’s health system. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien has called the crisis a “human catastrophe.”

Since March 2015, more than 6,200 people have been killed and 30,000 injured.

WHO has expressed alarm over the rise in the number of causalities amid hospital damages as well as shortages in trained staff and medicine. Approximately 25 percent of all health facilities have already shut down in the country.

However, health needs remain vast, said WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Ala Alwan.

“Operating in a conflict context is never an easy task,” Alwan added.

According to WHO, more than 21 million people—82 percent of the total population—are in dire need of humanitarian aid.

Though the provision of health services was already weak prior to the conflict, the escalation of violence has left millions of Yemenis without access to essential health services.

As a result of air strikes and rockets, water infrastructure has been and continues to be severely damaged. In February, a water reservoir serving over 40,000 people was destroyed in the capital of Sana’a following an airstrike.

Almost 19 million people currently lack access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the risk of epidemics such as dengue fever, malaria and cholera.

More than 14 million Yemenis also require urgent health services, including over 2 million acutely malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women. WHO found that 16 percent of children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, with the rate in some areas reaching more than 30 percent.

Alwan noted the numerous challenges in providing health services, including lack of access to hard-to-reach areas.

Permission to move and distribute humanitarian foods and personnel has been inconsistent by al-Houthi forces and allied groups such as Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners.

In a statement to the Security Council, O’Brien found that bureaucratic requirements have delayed and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance and even restricted movement of aid workers.

In one week alone in February, the Ministry of Interior in Sana’a rejected travel permission to three separate UN missions.

More than one third of Yemenis in need of assistance live in inaccessible areas.

Alwan highlighted the need for all parties to provide humanitarian access to all areas of Yemen and to respect the safety of health workers and health facilities which operate “under extremely challenging conditions.”

He also expressed concern over the limited funding for the health sector, which has only received 6 percent of its 2016 requirements. In February, the UN also appealed for $1.8 billion for the 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. So far, 12 percent has been funded.

“Despite our efforts so far, much more needs to be done to respond to the health needs of people in Yemen,” he urged.

Last week, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced that the country’s warring parties have agreed to cease hostilities starting on April 10 and to continue peace talks in Kuwait on April 18.

Under-Secretary-General O’Brien welcomed the move and urged for continued action to support and provide assistance to civilians in the country.

Source: All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service, 2016.

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