Yemen Humanitarian Bulletin Issue 19 (31 December 2016)
- The closure of the Sana’a airport is denying an estimated 20,000 people access to life-saving healthcare abroad.
- Over 5.3 million reached across Yemen’s 22 governorates despite obstacles.
- People in Yemen are dying of preventable health issues.
- $1.6 billion requested
- $977 million funding against HRP
- 60 per cent funded (31 December 2016)
Trapped in Yemen
Taha Ahmed, a ten-year-old boy, suffers from a bone disease. He urgently needs medical treatment that Yemen’s health system can no longer provide; instead it is available in nearby Jordan. Yet, like thousands of Yemenis, he is not able to leave the country because of the closure of the Yemen air space and the ban on commercial flights to-and-from Sana’a International Airport. “The most difficult thing in life is to see your own son suffer", says Ahmed al-Qomri, Taha’s father. “I was working up to 18 hours a day to earn enough money for Taha’s travel and medical treatment, but the ban on commercial flights is something I simply cannot do anything about”. Yet, Taha is more fortunate than the many others who have had to watch their loved ones die from preventable diseases that could have been cured if they were able to access medical treatment abroad. “An estimated 20,000 citizens are trapped inside Yemen, waiting to leave in search of medical treatment. Many of them suffer from medical and health conditions resulting from the war”, says Mazen Ghanem, the spokesperson of Yemenia, Yemen’s national airline carrier.
Compounding the situation is the fact that the 21-month conflict has had a disastrous effect on the weakest health system in the entire Middle East region. Today, only 45 per cent of health facilities are functional and most are doing so at a reduced capacity due to a lack of resources, of staff, and of medical supplies. Many Yemenis cannot get the treatment they need, even for basic preventable and curable diseases. Sana’a International Airport was closed on 9 August 2016 by the Government of Yemen and the Saudi Arabia led Coalition (SLC) after the collapse of the peace talks that were being held in Kuwait at that time. Subsequent pressure from the humanitarian community allowed humanitarian flights to quickly resume, but, commercial flights have been suspended ever since.
Prior to the ban on commercial flights, Yemenia Airlines operated two flights a week to Amman and Cairo, with an average of 200 passengers per flight and the demand, at the time, far exceeded its capacity. According to Yemenia, a third of those travelling were sick and injured seeking medical treatment abroad. Following the intensification of the conflict in March 2015, "the majority of the Yemenia flights were like flying ambulances, almost humanitarian in nature, with a third of all passengers seeking urgent and serious medical treatment”, says Ghanem.
The only alternative for many is to take the risk of flying from alternative airports in Yemen, mainly Aden and Hadramaut. Both airports are located far from the national capital Sana’a, with a journey to Hadramaut likely to take more than 20 hours and Aden no less than 10. Furthermore, these journeys only increase the vulnerability of the sick, injured, and elderly given the multiple checkpoints, conflict zones, and highly insecure areas requiring crossing.
Since the closure of the airport, the United Nations has been calling on the Coalition and the Government of Yemen to allow commercial flights to resume their travel to-and-from Sana’a, especially so the thousands of sick and injured can receive the medical treatment and assistance they require. Until that happens, preventable suffering and deaths will continue.
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