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22 Nov 17 29 Nov 17

Yemen: Statement and Q&A on the blockade preventing MSF from delivering urgently needed care

On November 6, 2017, the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia imposed a complete blockade of Yemen, where the coalition is fighting against Iranian-backed Houthi rebel forces. The blockade has had a significant impact on the ability of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to continue delivering emergency medical care and humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering the conflict is causing to the people of Yemen. 

Last week, Justin Armstrong, MSF's head of mission in Yemen, issued the following statement:

"For the past 12 days MSF has not received authorization from the Saudi-led Coalition to fly from Djibouti to Sana’a. This has significantly hindered the organization’s ability to provide life-saving medical and humanitarian assistance to a population already in dire need. On November 15, MSF’s usual scheduled weekly flight to Aden was authorized, and MSF’s plane was able to make one return flight between Djibouti and Aden. The authorization was a welcome step, and will help us to continue providing assistance in our projects in Aden, Taiz and nearby governorates. However Aden airport is far from sufficient for MSF to be able to deliver timely and urgent medical humanitarian aid across Yemen. Aden is also highly insecure and geographically far from some of the areas in most need of humanitarian assistance. The overall impact of the continuing blockade of other ports and airports increases the strain on the population by the day, at a time when the majority of Yemenis are already struggling with massive increases in food, water and fuel costs, as well as access to medical care.

MSF continues to request authorization for flights to Sana’a, which together with other areas of the north are among the places most affected by the blockade. Access for humanitarian flights into Yemen through Sana’a airport is essential for MSF’s medical and humanitarian operations, as well as for other organizations working to support the Yemeni population.”  

 

Q&A: The Saudi coalition's blockade in Yemen

When MSF requests passage for humanitarian supplies and staff flights from Djibouti, what responses are given by the Saudi-led coalition?

MSF has sent daily requests to the Saudi-Led coalition to fly into Yemen. All requests to fly to Sana’a have so far been denied, with no reason given. MSF’s request to operate its usual weekly flight from Djibouti to Aden on November 15 was granted.

 

What has happened since November 15, when the port of Aden and Wadea crossing (on the Saudi-Yemeni border) reopened?

Following the opening of Aden airport on 15 November, a limited number of MSF staff were able to fly in and out of Aden.

 

What impact does the border closure have on MSF and on the Yemeni population?

MSF is currently using its reserve stocks of drugs and fuel and its remaining international and national medical staff to operate in Yemen. However, as the blockade continues, fuel and water for our hospitals will be harder to find and we will start experiencing shortages in our drugs supplies, and we will not be able to bring in new international medical staff (such as surgeons, doctors and nurses) to support national staff management of the hospitals.

The border closures are having a direct impact on Yemenis. Fuel is already scarce in Yemen, particularly in the north, and MSF’s staff and patients are finding it increasingly difficult to get to work or to reach our hospitals as they cannot afford transport, the cost of which has greatly increased since November 6.

Prices of basic commodities such as food and drinking water have also soared, and the value of the Yemeni Rial has declined dramatically. After almost 1,000 days of war, many Yemenis have already exhausted their savings and are unable to cope with the additional increase in prices.

 

Is MSF already seeing the impact of the blockade among its patients?

Patients face difficulties in paying transport costs to hospital because of the rise in fuel prices, and others have not been able to adhere to their treatment.

In addition, international and national MSF staff (including ER doctors, orthopedic surgeons, medical technicians, etc.) have been stranded outside and within Yemen, meaning many projects are running with fewer medical staff than usual.

 

How many MSF flights were cancelled because of the blockade? How many flights does MSF usually have every week?

MSF usually has three flights per week to Sana’a and one flight per week to Aden (on a Wednesday), but has requested flights every days since November 6.

Between November 6 and 16, MSF made 11 requests for flights, only one of which was approved (the Djibouti-Aden flight on November 15).

 

How long will the blockade will last?

It’s hard for MSF to say how long this blockade will last, but with every passing day, the suffering of ordinary Yemenis across the country continues to grow.

 

If the Saudi-led coalition is allowing flights into Aden, why doesn’t MSF just reroute all its aid there? Is the opening of Aden port and airport sufficient to delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen?

The opening of Aden port and airport is not a solution for MSF and other humanitarian organisations. The capacity of the airport and port, the distance from MSF programmes in other parts of the country, the insecurity on the roads, lengthy authorisation processes and distance from the areas in greatest need necessitate the reopening of Sana’a airport and important seaports such as the one of Al Hudaydah.

For example, MSF’s hospital in Haydan is more than 800 kilometres from Aden, which is more than two days’ drive along an unsafe road with dozens of checkpoints.

The situation in Aden remains highly insecure. Over the past month, IS has claimed two attacks in the area and there are regular clashes between armed groups.

In addition, Aden poses a lot of logistical constraints. There are limited land routes to Sana’a and the north of the country from Aden. The drive to Sana’a takes a minimum of eight hours and road is known to be dangerous: numerous checkpoints, potential clashes between different armed groups and communications issues.

 

Are particular parts of the country more affected by the blockade?

The northern regions, which are under Houthi control and represent 70 to 80 per cent of Yemen’s entire population, are particularly affected by the ongoing blockade of Al Hudaydah seaport and Sana’a airport.  Many people here live in remote mountainous villages, or in Yemen’s poorest governorate, Al Hudaydah, where potable water and sanitation systems are a luxury. It is also in these areas where the vast majority of Yemen's cholera deaths seem to have occurred. The increase in fuel prices is likely to further affect the water availability and quality of a vulnerable population relying on bad quality underground water or water trucks for their daily needs, hence increasing their exposure to more potential health risks.

 

 

Q&A: Malnutrition in Yemen

The United Nations talks of famine in Yemen. What does MSF see on the ground in terms of malnutrition?

The combined effects of fighting, the obstruction of commercial imports, and of civil servants’ salaries in the most of the country not having been paid for over a year, and now the latest country blockade, amongst other factors, are all having an effect on access to food. There is not enough reliable data on the current situation in Yemen regarding nutrition and food security due to many reasons, and even within the country different areas have completely different contexts. Nonetheless, food insecurity and malnutrition remain major concerns in most of the country, particularly given that Yemen is almost entirely reliant on imports, with 80 to 90 per cent of goods, including food, being imported.

 

Why is MSF not seeing what the UN is describing?

MSF does not have a presence in all governorates and therefore can’t comment on all areas. Furthermore we believe there is a need for stronger data to better understand the nutrition status of the country. In addition, Yemen is a country known to have a chronically precarious situation with regard to food and water, with seasonal fluctuations in people’s nutrition status.

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