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A Call to End the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis: Yemen

Sara Al-Zubi, Kei McHale, Leah Sarah Peer, Laasya Vallabhaneni, Brett Nelson

We are students at Harvard Medical School and faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital concerned about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, currently exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued Saudi-led blockade. This letter is in direct support of the Yemenis that are fighting in opposition of the blockade and the destruction of Yemen’s healthcare system, and is intended to underscore the dire need for the international community, and particularly the Global Health community, to take action.

Since the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th President of the United States, there has been growing interest in renewing diplomatic efforts to end the war on Yemen. Over the past six years, the U.S. has directly contributed to the prolongation of the war and humanitarian catastrophe that has resulted from it, including through the sale of billions of dollars worth of military arms to Saudi Arabia, some of which have been directly involved in the massacre of Yemeni children. It is crucial, now more than ever, that the American government implement diplomatic and humanitarian solutions to end the war on Yemen.

The Yemeni war began in 2015 and has evolved into a multi-state war on a global scale. Even prior to the war, Yemen was already the poorest and most underdeveloped Arab country. At present, 17.8 million Yemenis lack access to safe water and sanitation. This is in addition to the 19.7 million people that lack access to adequate healthcare. Since the beginning of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, 233,000 civilian lives have been lost, including the lives of more than 3,000 children.

Due to the war and coalition airstrikes, there has been extensive destruction of the Yemeni healthcare infrastructure. The Yemen Data Project estimates that nearly 31% of the coalition airstrikes have struck civilian sites. Between March 2015 and March 2020, 281 airstrikes hit schools and universities, 241 airstrikes hit civilian cars and buses, 134 airstrikes have struck water and electricity sites and 83 have hit medical facilities. Not only so but these airstrikes are occuring at approximately 11 per day and nearly a quarter of the victims have been women and children. Currently, 400,00 children in Yemen may die from famine, which translates into 1 child every 75 seconds dying in Yemen [1].

In addition to political turmoil and a stagnant economy, the Yemeni people are now faced with a rapidly worsening healthcare crisis, stemming from a lack of healthcare facilities and supplies, a shortage of healthcare providers, and extremely high rates of food insecurity. All of these factors have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which have been unparalleled. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s research model predicts that up to 11 million people in Yemen could become infected, with between 62,000 and 85,000 deaths by mid-2021 [1]. This would result in a fatality rate of 28% among Yemenis with COVID-19 -- a rate more than five times higher than the global average [1]. According to the International Rescue Committee, Yemenis have experienced a 30% decrease in income since the start of the pandemic, all while dealing with a 68% increase in the cost of essential commodities such as food [5, 6].

Our Demands:

The Saudi-led coalition’s offensive military operations in Yemen must end immediately to prevent further loss of life. Based on the history of U.S. involvement and the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is critical for American organizations and healthcare professionals to support policies and initiatives to address key health elements of the problem.

We, therefore, urge the Biden Administration to end political and military collaboration with the Saudi-led coalition to enforce accountability for attacks on civilians and humanitarian aid workers, as follows:

  1. Applying pressure on Saudi Arabia to lift the blockades on all ports of entry to Yemen, including air, sea, and land, to allow the unrestricted entry of food, medicine, and other essential goods, as well as the full resumption of civilian air travel [7].

  2. Withdrawing from hostilities and expressly prohibiting any further U.S. assistance or support, including intelligence sharing, logistics support activities, and other destabilizing activities in Yemen, to any members of the Saudi-led coalition [8].

  3. Considering congressional action to cut off arms sales to members of the Saudi-led coalition, either of certain categories of weapons or completely [8].

  4. Institute sanctions to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its human rights abuses and devastating restrictions on humanitarian access to Yemen [8].

Furthermore, we urge all concerned parties to support an immediate end to the war on Yemen, as follows:

  1. Health professional associations in the U.S. should adopt resolutions opposing the war and the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on Yemeni ports of entry.

  2. Public health practitioners should increase awareness in their own professional organizations of the humanitarian effects of U.S. collaboration with the Saudi-led coalition blockade on Yemen and urge these groups to take a stand in opposition to it by organizing symposia and panel discussions including Yemeni and Yemeni-American health professionals, supporting written research and policy briefs on the subjects, and hosting fundraisers.

  3. Health professionals and public health practitioners, especially those with an understanding of the policy environment, should reach out to their representatives in Washington to express concern about the healthcare crisis in Yemen and to advocate for the use of diplomacy to end the Saudi blockades and Saudi-coalition air-strikes that are having a deleterious effect on Yemen’s healthcare infrastructure.

As part of our work through 3Sisters Foundation, we have created a Yemen Health Toolkit to highlight ways health communities can be involved in the advocacy efforts of Yemen. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is worsening by the day, and the time is now for Public Health professionals to speak up against it.

Join us on Tuesday, April 27th at 6:00 pm EDT on Zoom for a Yemen Health Humanitarian Crisis Panel sponsored through the Harvard Physicians for Human Rights Chapter in collaboration with 3Sisters Foundation, Inc.



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