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Yemen: “History will judge all of us, as Yemenis are already doing”
How do you comfort a mother who’s just lost a child in an indiscriminate airstrike? Jaume Rado, who oversees MSF’s work in Yemen, calls on the world to find an answer for Yemenis living through a brutal conflict.
On 11 August this year, the extended Kaeed family was gathered at a building in Mustaba, northwestern Yemen, to celebrate Eid al-Adha.
The family, who had already fled their hometown to seek refuge in Mustaba, were sitting down for lunch together.
That’s when an airstrike directly hit their building.
No safe places
The strike killed at least 10 members of their family and injured 17, all of whom arrived at the MSF-supported Abs Rural Hospital for emergency treatment. It was the largest influx of civilian war-wounded to the hospital in a single day since the beginning of the year.
When I spoke to Mariam, the 25-year-old mother of one of the children who lost their lives in the attack, I was reminded of the thousands of patients and their families who are affected by this conflict.
Every day that MSF spends treating patients is a day spent witnessing the impacts of this war on the people. Our patients no longer dare to hope that combatants will respect the laws of war, or that there are areas that are safe for those who are not part of the fighting.
Attacks on healthcare
It was impossible, speaking to Mariam, not to think of three years ago in August 2016, when my colleagues and their patients were the victims of another airstrike.
"There is still only one, simple request to make of all parties to the conflict: respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians"
That strike, by the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC), hit the emergency department of Abs Rural Hospital, killing 19 people including five children and one MSF team member.
It was the fifth and most deadly strike on an MSF-supported medical service in Yemen since 2015.
Since then, the strikes have continued unabated.
On 11 June 2018, a newly-constructed MSF cholera treatment centre in Abs was also attacked.
As a result, we had to rebuild the centre from scratch, and the more than 1.2 million people who rely on the services of Abs Hospital were left with no treatment as a cholera outbreak swept through their community.
The mere existence of diseases like cholera and diphtheria, which were previously almost absent in Yemen, signals how deeply the conflict is affecting the health and wellbeing of the Yemeni people.
Reckless disregard for life
There is an obvious, reckless disregard for civilian lives among the parties to the conflict in Yemen.
It is clear in the open flouting of international humanitarian law, in the bandying about of terms such as “collateral damage”, and in the negligence with which strikes on civilian sites are conducted.
The number of displaced people is now at 3.65 million and growing, while the capacity of the country to cope with such displacement is diminishing. Meanwhile, the humanitarian response to the conflict is insufficient and those working to provide aid are left exposed and unprotected.
Knowing all this, it is impossible to comfort a mother who has lost a child and nine other members of her family, just as it was impossible to comfort our staff and their patients three years ago.
There are no answers for them.
Ending the bloodshed
Now, there are increasingly strident calls for more funding for the international humanitarian response in Yemen. Of course, more funding is needed. But it is not enough by itself.
All the money that donors can provide will not change the situation if humanitarians’ access remains limited. We must be able to bring that aid to those who need it without risk of harm, instead of working in ever-diminishing areas further and further from displaced people.
Such funding, without real change from all sides in the conflict, will not end the bloodshed, will not compensate for the thousands of lost Yemeni lives, and will not provide the solutions that our patients so desperately need.
A simple request
Three years after the bombing of Abs Hospital there is still only one, simple request to make of all parties to the conflict: respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.
To those who can hold combatants accountable: do not accept “mistakes” or “collateral damage”.
To the international humanitarian community: it is time to do and say more.
History will judge all of us, as Yemenis are already doing.