As Yemen’s cholera epidemic deepens the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, fighting and Saudi-led airstrikes prevent international organizations from getting aid to massive numbers of people in desperate need, says Anas Shahari of Save the Children
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Yemen faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The recent cholera epidemic has spiraled out of control, now surpassing 300,000 cases in just 10 weeks. Anas Shahari is a spokesperson for Save the Children Yemen, and he joins me now from the Yemen capital of Sana’a. Anas, welcome. ANAS SHAHARI: Thank you. AARON MATÉ: Let’s start with the situation right now with the cholera outbreak. Talk to us about what is happening inside Yemen with this cholera epidemic. ANAS SHAHARI: The cholera epidemic is, as you said, the worst in the world. We have a lot of cases. It’s spiraling very quickly. Our people are getting infected; a lot of children are dying. I mean, so far we have 344,000 people who are infected or suspected to be infected with cholera. We have more than 1,700 cases of deaths because of cholera; 42 percent of this number is children. I can tell you I receive phone calls every now and then from friends who are living in different cities in Yemen. They’re telling me about their relatives and loved ones who have passed away because of cholera, and it has been out of control. We don’t have health facilities on the ground that are functioning properly. More than 50 percent of the health facilities in Yemen are either functioning there fully or partially. We don’t have enough medicine to treat patients as international organizations. The health system has collapsed, and is collapsing every day. We have restriction imports to medications because the people do not have also … the money to go and get the required medication. International organizations, local organizations as well, which are working in Yemen [inaudible 00:02:25]. There are a lot of patients suspected to be infected with cholera, and international organizations cannot reach that area just because it’s inaccessible due to the ground fighting, air strikes. It’s very difficult for aid workers to reach and help them. AARON MATÉ: Anas, the U.N. recently canceled a massive cholera vaccination program inside Yemen. They were going to send over hundreds of thousands of vaccines, but they abandoned the plan because they said that Yemen is just too dangerous right now. What will the impact of that be? ANAS SHAHARI: The impact, of course, is tremendous because the need is huge in Yemen. There are a lot of people who are being infected every day. On a daily basis, people are looking for treatment. Vaccinating them would not be as much important as treating the cases that are here nowadays. The infection is happening in too many ways, main of which is water. The water is contaminated. People are using the water that is giving them cholera. I mean, we have cases, for example, which are in remote areas in Yemen, and they do not have the money even for transportation to reach treatment centers. Sorry, that’s thunder. People in Yemen have not received their salaries for over 10 months from the government. Public servants do not have any money to spend on their families, let alone treating them from any disease, including cholera. AARON MATÉ: Anas, you’ve made field trips to parts of northern Yemen where the crisis is at its worst. Are there any stories you can tell us about what you saw that capture the severity of this crisis? ANAS SHAHARI: For example, I visited a city in Yemen where I saw a father with his seven kids and wife, all infected with cholera, and they had to sell their property in order to reach the hospital. I met them at the hospital where they told me there story, and they told me that they don’t have any money to pay for even accommodation. They are staying in a relative’s house, which is very small. And they are infected with cholera and they may infect other people in the neighborhood, and that was very difficult for them. I can tell you, also, stories from a coastal city where people are using schools as treatment centers because the health system cannot convene the large numbers of patients. I also can picture this parent who’s running with his son, looking for the treatment center because his son has become very weak as a result of cholera. People here are suffering big time, and the picture is just heartbreaking. Mothers are holding their children and crying, seeking help, looking for doctors. Doctors, even doctors are suffering in this country because they have not been paid for a long period of time. They cannot afford transportation to reach treatment centers, to go to hospitals to save lives of the children. AARON MATÉ: Now Anas, on Tuesday the U.N. said that the Saudi-led coalition had blocked a U.N. airplane carrying aid workers into Yemen because it was also carrying three journalists onboard. Can you talk about the difficulty of both getting people into Yemen who can report on this crisis, like those three journalists who were blocked? But also of just bringing in things like, as we said before, vaccinations, but also aid workers, medicine, and food? ANAS SHAHARI: Yeah. There are restrictions to imports in general, and that’s adding salt to the injury. For example, I am here based in Sana’a but it’s very difficult for me to move around because there are also restrictions on the ground. I mean, all sides are sitting restrictions in front of our spaces as aid workers, and of course, for journalists. We asked the U.N., we asked the Saudi-led coalition, we asked all parties involved to allow access of journalists to cover what’s happening here because if this crisis is left behind, then it’s left behind. People are dying every day and there is much to tell. We, as international organizations, can barely cover the need, and we always need support. We always need the plan funded. And we also need the support of many other parties like journalists, like lawyers and advocates. So this crisis is a whole package of hardship that needs the support of the entire international community, journalists, activists, and advocates. AARON MATÉ: And Anas, finally, the U.S. House of Representatives here in the U.S. recently voted on two amendments in a defense authorization bill that would strictly limit the U.S. role in the Yemen war, which has included refueling Saudi jets, and supplying intelligence, and coordinating air strikes. If the U.S., in fact, stopped its involvement in its support for the Saudi-led coalition, would that make a big difference? ANAS SHAHARI: I didn’t hear the last part. AARON MATÉ: If the U.S. stopped its support for the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, how much of a difference would that make? ANAS SHAHARI: I mean, the primary ask for all INGOs working in Yemen is to find peaceful solutions. Also to end the suffering of the people. Any step forward that may contribute to achieving peace in Yemen is welcomed. And we ask all the parties to adhere to the international humanitarian law. And to protect the lives of civilians in order to pave the way for peace in this country. Because you know lot of people have lost their jobs, have lost their lives, lost their family members. They do not go to school anymore. If they get sick, they cannot go to a hospital. If they get hungry, there is no food to feed the families. I mean, it’s an overall crisis that is the biggest in the world, and anything that would help to end this crisis is welcome. AARON MATÉ: As you go out for your field visits on the ground, you speak to a lot of average Yemenis. Can you convey for us the message that you hear from them in terms of what they want the world to know about what they’re suffering? And how they view the rest of the world looking on as this crisis continues? ANAS SHAHARI: I exactly ask them the same question. What they tell me is they don’t care about any party and they don’t want to know what’s happening. They just want this hell to end. People are suffering big deal and they have had enough of this war. And always, when I ask them this question, I receive this answer. It’s like, “We’ve had enough. We need this war to end.” I can also tell you the way they look at international community is, they feel they have left them alone because the support that is coming into the country is not enough. I mean, the need is huge, but the aid and the support international organizations are providing is very limited. So people are feeling left alone, and they always ask for more support. And above all, they ask for peace so that they can find jobs in order to feed their families, in order to treat their children, to send them to schools, to get them water to drink, et cetera. AARON MATÉ: Anas Shahari, spokesperson for Save the Children Yemen, joining us from Sana’a. Anas, thank you. ANAS SHAHARI: Thank you very much. AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.