One year on, closure of Yemen's airport 'has caused more deaths than airstrikes'

One year on, closure of Yemen's airport 'has caused more deaths than airstrikes'
The UN has called for the reopening of Yemen's main airport one year since its closure, while the NRC says it has caused more Yemeni deaths than Saudi-led airstrikes.
3 min read
09 August, 2017
Besieged Yemenis are dying because they can't leave the country for medical treatment [AFP]
The closure of Yemen's main airport has led to more deaths than Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, Norway's Refugee Council has said.

The shock statistic has been revealed exactly one year since its closure and as the UN calls for the reopening of the Sanaa terminal. 

At least 10,000 Yemenis have now died from health conditions for which they were seeking medical treatment abroad, according to data from the Ministry of Health in Sanaa. The number exceeds the death toll of close to 9,000 people killed in violent attacks.

"Denial of access to travel has condemned thousands of Yemenis with survivable illnesses to death," said Mutasim Hamdan, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director in Yemen. "Beyond airstrikes and cholera, the war in Yemen is devastating Yemeni lives on all fronts."

Restrictions imposed on Yemen's airspace by the Saudi-led coalition resulted in the official closure of the Sanaa International Airport to commercial flights on August 9, 2016, leaving many Yemenis with no safe means of transport in or outside the country.

Prior to the escalation of conflict in Yemen, an estimated 7,000 Yemenis were travelling abroad for medical treatment not available in the country, a number that has grown exponentially since March 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition began airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels who orchestrated a bloody coup against the Hadi government in September 2014.

More than 54,000 people have been killed or injured since the coalition's involvement.

Denial of access to travel has condemned thousands of Yemenis with survivable illnesses to death

Two-thirds of the country's population of 19 million now live in need humanitarian aid and close to half a million are affected by cases of suspected cholera since April this year.

"Without access to safe, commercial travel, Yemenis are left with no way to access critical medical care. The result is devastating; thousands of women, men and children who could have been saved have now lost their lives," said Hamdan. 

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN's top aid official in Yemen, said the UN had been lobbying the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen's exiled government in Aden to reopen the airport.

"We continue to advocate to all the parties involved in this and the people who control the airspace, the people in Riyadh, the people in Aden, to help alleviate the suffering," he told ABC News.

"This has become a tactic of the war in itself and I think [it] is really unfair.

As well as the deaths of thousands of people, the country's infrastructure has also been devastated. Furthermore, 1.2 million Yemeni civil servants have not been paid their usual salaries for up to a year, causing the slow collapse of public services.

"Yemen's public services are crumbling under the pressures of war: hundreds of thousands more people are sick, injured or in need of services, but there are drastically reduced resources to meet them," said Hamdan.

"It is critical that all channels of domestic and international air movement are reopened so Yemenis can get help, and help can get to Yemenis."