Nearly 80% of Yemen’s civilian population is dependent on humanitarian aid for food and water, while six million are believed to be suffering “severe” hunger, and up to 8,000 people may have contracted Dengue fever. This is the dire portrait of a war-torn nation the United Nations presented this week, as fighting between Shiite Houthi rebels and supporters of Sunni President Hadi and Saudi Arabia continue to struggle for power.
Up to 21 million people in Yemen, nearly 80% of its population, depend on humanitarian aid for food and water, UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told reporters this week, imploring the belligerent parties to allow the UN and NGOs to enter the country and provide necessary food, water, and medicine. Another one million Yemenis are believed to have been internally displaced by violence, with 20 million believed to have potable water out of reach. “While we pursue a sustainable long-term cessation of violence, I called on all the relevant parties to agree without delay to a humanitarian truce,” he demanded, noting that Saudi Arabia’s blockade on Yemen has made it nearly impossible for food shipments to enter the country.
Saudi Arabia has blocked the country and engaged in airstrikes since March, following the takeover of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, by Shiite Houthi rebels. The Houthis are widely believed to be receiving support from Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
In addition to severe food and water shortages, Yemen is facing an outbreak of Dengue fever that may be unprecedented in its history. The tropical disease, which causes severe flu-like symptoms, such as high fever, vomiting, and severe joint pain, has previously appeared in Yemen, with the latest outbreak occurring in 2011 and infecting 1,500 people. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes there are at least 3,000 recorded cases of it in a Yemen much less capable of treating them than that of 2011, noting that other NGOs have placed the number at closer to 6,000, though the WHO could only confirm half of those. The WHO has warned that few hospitals have escaped the wrath of Houthi attacks and Saudi airstrikes, leaving few recourses for the sick.
Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper, reports that the number of cases might be even higher, according to Yemeni sources on the group. The Supreme Medical Committee in the southern city of Aden, currently the refuge of the legitimate Yemeni government, reported 8,036 cases on June 25. The head of that agency, Abdel Nasser al-Waly, told Turkish state news Andalou Agency that “the number of those stricken with Dengue fever in Aden has increased remarkably over the past three weeks,” and he believed his estimate may actually be low, given that many areas of the country are difficult for medical professionals to reach.
Despite the dire situation, the UN’s Yemeni envoy continues to issue statements of optimism about the possibility of peace in Yemen. “Despite the raging battles, the ongoing violence and the dramatic humanitarian situation, Yemenis answered the Secretary-General’s invitation and participated in the initial consultations,” he said of the latest round of talks between the two sides, which he mediated. “I deeply regret the deep division between the parties and lack of compromise which prevented an agreement that was within reach,” he added.
This round of talks concluded in fisticuffs after a female journalist threw a shoe at Hamza al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi delegation to the peace talks.
Amid all the talk of humanitarian disaster, the war continues. The Houthis continue to attack Sunni strongholds, going as far as to attack Saudi Arabia itself on the nation’s border. An estimated 100 people have been killed this week in fighting in multiple cities, both by ground attacks and airstrikes. “In Aden dozens of shells fell on densely populated neighbourhoods, while artillery duels shook the city of Taiz,” reports The Australian.