As fighting in Yemen edges closer to the main healthcare practice in the port city of Hudaydah, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) joined the world body’s humanitarian chief on Thursday to urge the warring parties not to target or occupy any civilian sites – including Al Thawrah Hospital.
While urging the parties to maintain the recent de-escalation in fighting in war-battered Hudaydah that has provided a desperately needed respite to hundreds of thousands of civilians who remain in the Red Sea port city, the two senior UN officials said they were deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Conflict in Yemen – already one of the poorest countries in the world before the crisis – escalated in March 2015, when an Saudi-led international coalition intervened militarily at the request of the Yemeni presidency, against a widespread Houthi rebel insurgency.
“Hostilities over the last several weeks in Hudaydah have taken a steep toll, including on health facilities directly damaged in crossfire or occupied by armed groups,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, and Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, in a joint statement.
They were especially worried about Al Thawrah Hospital, which is the only facility in the city equipped to provide a full range of secondary and tertiary care, and therefore critical for millions of people in Hudaydah Governorate. More than 81,000 children were treated at the hospital in 2017, while over 45,000 have received treatment there so far this year.
The hospital’s services include a malnutrition treatment facility, two intensive care units that are providing intensive emergency care including for newborn babies, and a cholera treatment centre that has treated 1,615 patients since August 2018.
“Since the lull in hostilities, Al Thawrah hospital has remained functional and accessible. However, front lines remain very close by, meaning any resumption of hostilities could quickly render the facility unusable,” said the officials.
They noted that Al Thawrah had been damaged several times during fighting before the lull. And while other hospitals continue to operate in Hudaydah, none offer the level of care and services provided by Al Thawrah. Its continued operation is vital for the city and its surroundings.
“We remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to abide by the fundamental rules of distinction and proportionality and to take constant care – at all times – to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure, including Al Thawrah Hospital and all other health facilities,” they said.
Ms. Fore and Mr. Lowcock called on the parties not to occupy or otherwise use civilian sites – including Al Thawrah – for military purposes, and stressed that the conflict parties should also guarantee that patients, their family members and medical staff have safe passage to and from the hospital at all times.
They stressed: “A durable cessation of hostilities – part of a package of five measures – would be a welcome first step. Full implementation of all five measures – a cessation of hostilities, protection of the supply of food and essential goods, support for the economy, increased funding for the response, and engagement by the parties with the Special Envoy [for Yemen] to end the conflict – is essential to prevent potential catastrophe.”