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IRC report: Failed public health system ‘quiet killer’ in Yemen

US- and UK-backed Saudi-led coalition overinvest in war at expense of Yemeni civilians

  • The Government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition, continue to invest in the war while failing to provide the people of Yemen with life-saving health services: more Yemenis have died from the deprivation of basic goods and services than from fighting;
  • In 2017 the US approved 17.86 billion USD in military sales by corporations to Saudi Arabia 26.75 times more than US humanitarian aid to Yemen in 2017 (667.5 million USD);

The Saudi-led coalition (SLC) is depriving civilians in Yemen of basic healthcare, killing scores more than the fighting itself, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said today, marking the third anniversary of the conflict. In a new report, the IRC found that the SLC’s investment in the war effort comes at the direct expense of the Yemeni people — especially with respect to the delivery of health services. While the US and UK governments continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen they are simultaneously supporting the war effort by approving billions of arms sales and military support to the SLC’s bombing campaign. As a result, Yemen is experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and two out of three people lacking access to basic health care.

The 22-page report, “They Die of Bombs, We Die of Need: Impact of Collapsing Public Health Systems in Yemen,” based on IRC research and interviews conducted on the ground, has identified a violation of Yemeni people’s right to health and right to life. The conflict in Yemen has resulted in a near total breakdown in basic health care. But the strangulation of Yemen’s public health infrastructure runs deeper, according to the IRC. The SLC has allowed the functions of the Yemeni state to atrophy. Most government employees, who are vital to running health services and are a lifeline for people in Yemen, have not received salaries for more than a year. The money that is allocated to basic healthcare is miniscule when compared to investment in war efforts. According to a Ministry of Health official, 20% of the Yemen Government’s 3 billion USD proposed budget for 2018 will be allocated to healthcare — equivalent to just three days of Saudi war spend in the country.

“The US- and UK-backed Saudi-led coalition has bombed civilians and blocked the delivery of life-saving healthcare and medicine. This is a violation of international humanitarian law and indefensible,” said David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. “The facts don't lie: the US and the UK government’s financial and policy choices that support the Saudi-led coalition are prolonging the suffering and deepening the schisms in Yemen.”

The SLC’s de facto blockade on rebel-controlled ports have made the import of medical supplies and life-saving drugs and vaccines into Yemen, a country that relies on imports to meet 85% of its health needs, complicated and extremely expensive. Costly delays and uncertainty have caused many importers to stop shipping to Yemen directly, forcing humanitarian organizations like the IRC to make complex logistical arrangements. Since the blockade was announced in November 2017, the average cost of a container of medical supplies has risen by 280%. If the Saudis are serious about addressing the humanitarian crisis, the most valuable step they could take would be to lift the blockade, permanently.

Health facilities report chronic shortages of medical supplies and life-saving drugs. Preventable, deadly diseases have spiked — including 1 million suspected cholera cases representing the world’s worst outbreak, as well as new outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases like measles, mumps and diphtheria that threaten Yemeni children in particular. A Yemeni child under 5 dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes. More than 520,000 pregnant women have no access to reproductive health services, and nearly 462,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition – a nearly 200 percent increase since the war began in 2014.

The IRC and other humanitarians in Yemen cannot fill this gap and replace government services. With each additional day of war and systematic import restrictions and delays, all parties continue to strangle the country to the point of disrepair. The IRC calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the right to humanitarian assistance and life-saving healthcare — before it is too late. The SLC must protect and strengthen the public health systems through impartial and coordinated international cooperation to ensure equitable distribution and access to health facilities, goods and services, especially for women and children. All parties must cease hostilities and resume peace talks.

"The US and UK should recognize their role in this war and the humanitarian crisis it is fueling,” Miliband said. “It is well past time for a change of course. More bombing will not resolve this conflict, but investing in public health and completely lifting the blockade would save innumerable lives. The US and UK should be leading international efforts to halt the killing and start negotiations to end the war.”

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Fast facts from the report:

  • 9.3 million Yemenis denied their right life-saving health services under international law
  • 79% of the Yemeni population require humanitarian aid
  • Only half of health facilities in Yemen are operational in both Houthi and government-controlled areas of the country
  • More than 2/3rds (68%) of the population lacks access to basic health care
  • 2.9 million children and pregnant/lactating women are acutely malnourished
  • A child under the age of 5 dies in Yemen every 10 minutes from preventable causes
  • An estimated 45 percent of deaths among children under five attributable to malnutrition
  • More than half of the population in Yemen lacks access to clean water as a result of the conflict
  • 11.6 million people require urgent assistance to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation
  • Lack of access to safe water and sanitation has resulted in nearly 1 million suspected cases of cholera and more than 2,192 associated deaths in 2017 alone
  • Saudi Arabia is estimated to be spending up to 200 million USD per day on the war, three days of Saudi war efforts would cover the projected health budget from the Government of Yemen in 2018
  • In 2017 the US approved 17.86 billion USD in military sales to Saudi Arabia 26.75 times more than US humanitarian aid to Yemen in 2017 (667.5 million USD)
About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.