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Press Release

Yemen: Collective punishment must end now

Last updated 
  • Over two weeks into Saudi-led Coalition’s blockade, continued blatant violation of international law has exponential impact on the IRC’s work and is creating humanitarian misery for millions of Yemenis, 
  • Partial lifting of blockade by Saudi-led Coalition is arbitrary and discriminatory; the IRC calls for an immediate and total lift. A return to status quo ante would be too little, too late;
  • Sanctions and inspections should not be used as weapons of war;
  • The international community’s continued inaction is a disgrace and is enabling what could be collective punishment.  

The U.S.-backed Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) must immediately end its blockade of international airports, seaports and crossings in Yemen. This blockade is a blatant violation of international law which could amount to collective punishment, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said today. Each week, the inability to deliver humanitarian aid by IRC alone will cost the lives of 500 children to malnutrition; prevent access to health services for 8,000 people; and prevent access to clean water for 15,000 people in the midst of the world's largest cholera outbreak on record. If it continues, the blockade will have devastating consequences—the recent Famine Early Warning Systems update on Yemen, the official body that declares famines, suggests that thousands would die as a result of lack of medicine and overland transport of supplies.

With every day that passes, the international community is complicit in what could amount to collective punishment, pushing millions of innocent men, women, and children closer to a catastrophic famine in a country already ravaged by nearly four years of war. The global community must exert all possible leverage on the SLC to lift the blockade immediately and then take steps to address the existing sanctions regime the SLC has used to justify the delay and denial of commercial and humanitarian supplies to Yemen since 2015. 

On November 6, 2017, the SLC declared a “temporary” closure of Yemen’s international ports of entry in response to a ballistic missile attack by Houthi combatants on Saudi Arabia the day before, promising to take into consideration the continuation of the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies and crews. Instead, they maintained a total blockade of the country for 7 days and a complete blockade of ports under Houthi control remains in force. 

This partial lifting of the blockade provides little relief to Yemenis. Because ports like Hodeida, where 80% of humanitarian and commercial goods enter the country, remain closed, humanitarian and commercial imports remain a trickle at best. Right now, only about a fifth of the basic goods required for the 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance can enter Yemen. All of IRC’s pharmaceutical procurement is done internationally and was already subject to significant delays. IRC’s recovery to previous levels and scaling will take weeks—not days—if and when the blockade is lifted. 

“We are far beyond the need to raise an alarm. What is happening now is a complete disgrace. Just two weeks of this blockade had a direct and dire impact in a country already battling the worst cholera outbreak in modern history and on the brink of famine,” said Paolo Cernuschi, Yemen country director at the IRC. “What happened to ‘never again’? The responsibility of failing to act to prevent collective punishment is on us all.”

  • Yemen is on the brink of famine.

The IRC is running out of supplies to treat malnutrition, in a country where 3.3 million children and pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished, including 462,000 children under 5 suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Currently, IRC has enough nutrition supplies for three months but stocks are fast depleting. With procurement cycles averaging approximately two months and backlogs on imports ballooning, it is likely we will run out of stocks before receiving new ones. If the blockade persists, then on a weekly basis the lives of 500 children with severe or moderate acute malnutrition that IRC treats will be left to deteriorate further or even die.

  • Yemen is experiencing the world’s largest cholera outbreak in modern history, with cases approaching one million.

The spike in fuel prices and scarcity have caused inflation that amounts to an average of 21% for commodities in less than 10 days. Every week, the IRC provides clean drinking water for 52,500 people in parts of Yemen through water trucking, and have already seen a 30% increase in cost. In the short term with our current resources, the organization will be able to provide water to approximately 15,750 fewer people because of the blockade. The IRC is also no longer able to source disinfectant soap in local markets, which means 7,000 lifesaving hygiene kits will no longer be distributed each week - and the same number of families are at a higher risk of contracting cholera in a country where it is endemic. This will only get worse with each day this blockade continues.

  • In Yemen, more than half of hospitals have been destroyed.

The 30% spike in fuel prices due to the blockade has limited IRC staff’s ability to get to work and forced 16 mobile clinics to run on contingency stocks of fuel. In less than three weeks the IRC’s mobile health teams could be unable to operate, which means that every week:

- 8,000 people will not receive essential primary health care;
- 750 children and 450 women of reproductive health age will not be able to receive lifesaving vaccinations;
- 1,000 women will not receive family planning methods;
- 800 pregnant women will not be able to receive antenatal care services; and,
- 350 new mothers and their babies will not be able to receive postnatal care services.

“As if three years of conflict killing 10,000 people, half of which are civilians, destroying the country’s entire infrastructure, and creating a humanitarian catastrophe impacting 17 million people wasn’t enough, the ongoing blockade is merely kicking the civilian population when it is down. These actions are unconscionable, unjustifiable, and in need of urgent redress if political actors don’t want to be complicit in this unfolding tragedy,” Cernuschi said.

For more information, please visit IRC's Yemen country page. 

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.