Warnings of humanitarian crisis as Yemen's civil war rolls on

The UN and private aid agencies say with fighting on the ground and a Saudi-led air campaign pounding the ports, food and clean water are running short in Yemen.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
People gather on the wreckage of a house destroyed by an air strike in the Bait Rejal village west of Yemen's capital Sanaa April 7, 2015. The strike killed three women and three children from one family on Tuesday, local media reported.

Fighting in Yemen has displaced more than 100,000 people and killed at least 74 children over the past two weeks, and the UN warns the humanitarian situation is set to get a lot worse.

UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, said Monday Yemen's civil war has disrupted water supplies and overburdened the country’s poorly equipped hospitals. UNICEF’s Yemen representative, Julien Harneis, warned that children are especially vulnerable.

"They are being killed, maimed and forced to flee their homes, their health threatened and their education interrupted," she said in a statement.

As the Middle East’s most impoverished country, Yemen struggled to care for its people even before its latest civil war broke out, which involves a foreign coalition led by Saudi Arabia on the side of the country's exiled president.

UNICEF warns that major urban centers, including the southern city of Aden, may soon run out of drinking water. Sewage is overflowing in Aden and other locations, increasing the chances of a disease outbreak among the population. 

The Saudi-led airstrikes and skirmishes at the country’s airports and seaports aren't helping, impeding access to food and other basic supplies.

Reuters reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross plans to fly two planes carrying a total of 48 tons of medical supplies and other aid to Yemen over the next two days. Yet organizing the flights wasn’t easy:

Delivery of the aid shipments has been repeatedly held up as the ICRC negotiated clearance with the Saudi-led coalition which has mounted air strikes on Yemen's Houthi fighters for nearly two weeks. It also struggled to find aircraft to fly into Yemen.

ICRC spokeswoman Marie Claire Feghali told Reuters that it planned to fly the first plane, which is being loaded in Jordan with 16 tons of medical supplies, to Yemen on Wednesday. The second plane, which will carry medical aid and other equipment including tents and generators, is being loaded in Geneva and will fly on Thursday.

Analysts and aid workers told the Washington Post that the conflict could produce waves of refugees similar to the flight of Syrians from that country’s civil war.

Looking to exploit Yemen’s chaos are extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State, said Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics.

“If Yemen descends into all-out war, which is a likely scenario, we could witness a greater humanitarian crisis than that of Syria, in terms of refugees and mass starvation,” he said. “You could end up with al-Qaeda being the main winner after this conflict.”

So far the conflict has shown few signs of letting up. The Associated Press reports that fighting intensified in Aden on Monday, with the Houthis and their allies making their strongest push yet to take control of the city. The clashes were so intense, according to the AP, that many bodies were left in the streets.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.