MARCH 31, 2015
Aid for Yemen Dwindles as Need Rises Amid Chaos
By KAREEM FAHIM and NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
CAIRO -- The United Nations' human rights chief warned on Tuesday that Yemen was on the brink of collapse, as health officials in the southern port city of Aden described a medical system failing after weeks of urban warfare that had left scores dead and hospitals overflowing with bodies.
The warning from the human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, came as a Saudi-led military offensive against the Houthis, a militia group from northern Yemen that Saudi officials have accused of serving as a proxy force for Iran, threatened to burst into a broader conflict.
The Houthis, acknowledging their alliance with Iran but denying acting on its orders, have been able to extend their offensive despite intensifying airstrikes by Saudi warplanes across Yemen.
There have been few signs that the battle, which began last Wednesday, is shifting decisively in favor of any of the combatants, raising fears of a lengthy war that is expanding the destabilizing regional conflict between the Persian Gulf monarchies and Iran. With Yemen under blockade from air and sea by the Saudi-led coalition, aid agencies intensified their warnings on Tuesday about the toll on civilians and hospitals, which are running critically low on medical supplies.
"The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days," Mr. al-Hussein said in a statement. "The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse."
"The killing of so many innocent civilians is simply unacceptable," he added.
Some hospitals have been bombed, as have private homes; schools; and civilian airports and power stations in the capital, Sana, and the cities of Saada and Al Hudaydah, the United Nations said, highlighting fears of the havoc that would result from a threatened ground invasion by Saudi forces and those of other nations.
Unicef said in a statement on Tuesday that at least 62 children had been killed in fighting in Yemen over the past week. Mr. al-Hussein said he was shocked by a Saudi airstrike Monday on Al Mazraq, a camp in the north for displaced Yemenis, which caused scores of civilian casualties.
The United Nations human rights office said its staff had confirmed that at least 19 people had been killed and 35 others wounded in that strike, but it noted that there were different accounts of the number of dead. The International Organization for Migration, which had workers in the camp, reported that 40 people had been killed.
Worries are growing over the fate of Aden, a tumbledown port that has been ravaged for weeks by street fighting between units allied with the Houthis and forces loyal to Yemen's exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom the Saudis are trying to restore to power.
Residents said that water had been cut off for days and that electricity was out for hours at a time. With few breaks in the fighting and fuel hard to come by, even fleeing the city has become perilous for many residents, who have remained sequestered at home for days.
Al-Khadher Laswar, a Health Ministry official in Aden, described the situation as "miserable" and said doctors were overwhelmed by the flood of victims, including civilians struck by shelling or gunfire as the clashes coursed through neighborhoods.
The fighting has made it difficult for medics to reach the victims in time, he said. "The ambulances are only used to transport the dead," he said, adding that at least 88 people had been killed over the last six days in the city alone.
Dounia Dekhili, the program manager for Doctors Without Borders  in Yemen, said the group's physicians had treated more than 500 people in the last two weeks in Aden, including burn victims from explosions at an ammunition depot and passengers on a bus that had apparently come under shelling.
Because of the blockade, Doctors Without Borders, one of the few international aid agencies still functioning in the country, had been unable to reinforce its surgical teams or bring in supplies, Ms. Dekhili said.
"Instead of a surge of humanitarian assistance, the opposite is happening now," she said.
A similar warning came from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said it was trying to fly in supplies to replenish hospital stocks but had not been able to negotiate the safe arrival of the aircraft.
"We have reached out to absolutely everyone," said Marie Claire Feghali, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Sana. "We are being delayed, but we continue to push."
Some aid may have pierced the blockade. The state-run news media in Iran reported on Tuesday that the Iranians had airlifted humanitarian aid to Yemen, the first such delivery from Iran since the bombing campaign began.
The accounts did not specify precisely where the aid had been sent, or how the Iranians had evaded the blockade, but they said it included 19 tons of medical supplies and two tons of food donated by the Iranian Red Crescent.
A Saudi military spokesman blamed the Houthis on Tuesday for the growing number of casualties, accusing them of fighting from inside civilian areas and putting residents at risk.
That assertion came in response to a swelling chorus of criticism of the Saudi military, including from Amnesty International, which said in a statement that 14 people had been burned to death, including at least six civilians, in Saudi airstrikes early Tuesday against a Houthi checkpoint and fuel depots.
In its statement, Amnesty International accused the coalition of "turning a blind eye to civilian deaths and suffering caused by its military intervention."
The fighting has forced hundreds of families to flee their homes, adding to the more than 334,000 people the United Nations' refugee agency reported as displaced in the months of conflict before the recent surge in hostilities.
To escape the fighting, small numbers of Yemenis have started crossing the Red Sea to Somalia and Djibouti, said William Spindler, a spokesman for the refugee agency. "We are preparing for a larger influx," he added.
Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo, and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva. Saeed al-Batati contributed reporting from Al Mukalla, Yemen, and Rick Gladstone from New York.