Yemen's war and its terrible toll on Taiz

Yemen's war and its terrible toll on Taiz
As the war in Yemen continues to take its terrible toll, the people of the southern city of Taiz, once the country’s cultural capital, are struggling to survive.
3 min read
25 October, 2015
So far, thousands of civilians, including children have been killed in the Yemen conflict [Getty]

The ongoing armed conflict in Yemen is taking a terrible toll on civilians.

From March 26, 2015 to October 16, the UN Yemen Country Office has recorded 7,655 civilian casualties, including 2,577 killed and 5,078 wounded.  

The suffering in Yemen's third-largest city Taiz is especially alarming, with more than three million people in critical need of health assistance, safe drinking water, food and fuel.

"Innocent lives are at risk," said Ahmed Shadoul, the World Health Organisation [WHO] Representative in Yemen. 

"Hundreds of thousands of civilians need life-saving medicines, health services, food, safe water and fuel,” Shadoul added.

Innocent lives caught in conflict

The Arab world's poorest country has been caught in a conflict since March, where a Saudi-led coalition has been waging an air campaign against the Houthis.

Both sides have continuously been accused of violating the laws of war and committing crimes against humanity. So far, thousands of civilians have been killed, with numbers likely to increase as the war rages on.

The southern city of Taiz, besieged by the Houthis, has witnessed a deteriorating situation.

According to Human Rights Watch, the rebels have repeatedly fired mortar shells and artillery rockets indiscriminately into populated neighbourhoods, killing scores of innocent civilians.

“Houthi forces have been shelling Taiz without regard for the safety of its residents,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch [HRW].

The rebels have also unlawfully confiscated food and medical supplies from civilians in the city.

Sadeq Shujaa, the secretary general of the Doctors and Pharmacists Syndicate branch in Taiz said that those who complained directly to Houthi commanders have reportedly been told to “Ask the Resistance to feed you.”

“Humanitarian and health needs are increasing and the limited response we have been able to provide is not enough,” Shadoul explained.

Life-saving essentials

According to WHO, patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and cancer, are unable to access life-saving essential medicines and dialysis centres due to limited access of health facilities and reduced functionality of others.

Despite efforts by WHO to provide medicines and medical supplies to Taiz governorate, sufficient for 600,000 beneficiaries, including 250,000 people inside Taiz City, shortages of fuel and medicines have forced most health units in villages to shut down.

In addition to this, the Houthis have also been confiscating drugs from trucks sent by the World Health Organisation to Taiz, adding to the plight.

Confiscating or destroying objects that are indispensable to the survival of the population is prohibited, Human Rights Watch said.

Food shortage

The United Nations has also warned armed factions in Yemen over "the deliberate starvation of civilians", as the embattled country grapples with a food crisis that has left 850,000 children facing acute malnutrition.

Six million people are "severely food insecure", the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, said in a statement.

"Sieges in a number of governorates, including Taiz, have been preventing staple food items, such as wheat, from reaching the civilian population,"  the statement said. 

She noted that airstrikes have reportedly targeted both markets and trucks carrying food.

"The deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict may constitute a war crime," she further said.

The shortages in food have also led to significant price hikes, with many people now unable to afford basic food items.

“There is so much more we can do for the people of Taiz, but we need unrestricted access so that we can reach more people, and additional funding to allow us to scale up our response,” Shadoul said.

“Unless we are able to overcome these two challenges, more innocent lives are at risk,” he said, appealing for $60 million for life-saving response operations across the country until the end of this year.

"Yemen is crumbling," the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, said. "The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic," he added.