International aid workers are trying to deliver much-needed medical supplies and other humanitarian necessities to people caught in the war zone in Yemen. DW's Diana Hodali spoke with Sitara Jabeen, from the ICRC.
Your team already received approval to deliver medicine to Sanaa by plane, but you are still waiting to receive approval to reach Aden by boat, two convoys entered. Is that still the current situation?
The convoys haven't entered yet. We received approval from the coalition to bring two planes to Yemen, one was a cargo plane with medical supplies on it and the other one was a small passenger plane because we are rotating some staff between Yemen and Djibouti. Yesterday, the passenger plane brought some of our colleagues to Yemen. In the beginning we were struggling to find a cargo plane which wanted to go to Yemen, we faced serious logistical challenges – fewer airlines are willing or allowed to go to Yemen nowadays. Eventually we found one and today we will be loading the plane in Jordan where we have a warehouse and where we have medical supplies. 16.4 tons of medical supplies that includes surgical kits and material hospital are needed very badly right now. And we expect them to reach Yemen tomorrow.
So, just to clarify, you haven't reached Aden so far?
In Aden the situation remains extremely difficult. Security is a big concern because there is fierce fighting taking place. The conflict in general has intensified across the country, but Aden is the hardest hit area. There are also airstrikes, dozens of people are being killed and wounded every day. So, in this situation, we need to see when we will be able to bring our ship to Aden. Our ship needs the clearance from the parties in Yemen as well as from the coalition. The security situation in Aden remains very difficult for our humanitarian workers to operate there. Today, we are focusing on the plane that will leave from Jordan. The material on board would be sufficient to treat 1,500 patients.
You said you are waiting for clearance from the different parties in the Yemeni conflict. Are you - as an organization - in touch with the warring factions as well as with the Saudi-lead-coalition?
Yes, we are in contact with all the different parties. We need permission from everyone because this permission also means that we get the security guarantees so that once the staff is there, they will be able to do their work safely. Just to give you an idea, last week three Yemeni ICRC workers where shot dead in the south of Yemen. That is why we need clearance from everyone not just for the ship but also for our team so that it is able to work in a safe environment.
Your colleague Mister Mardini described Aden “as a ghost town”. How would you describe the humanitarian situation in Yemen?
The humanitarian situation in Yemen is precarious. People have been locked inside their homes for days now and in many areas they are cut off from any outside assistance, from any help, that could reach them because of the intense fighting. That is why we called for a 24-hour humanitarian pause which never took place, but we are calling for it. It is important because people need to breathe, they must be able to go out and get the things that they need. We are also preparing another plane which will carry 32 tons of medical supplies, generators and also material that is needed to fix the water system in Yemen. In many areas there is no electricity and no water.
What will you do after the supplies reach Sanaa?
Once we reach the capital, our objective is to distribute the medical supplies to hospitals in Yemen. We hope to be able to do that as quickly as possible and hope to be able to do that safely. Our teams, at the same time, will also focus on the other urgent humanitarian needs on the ground. This is not the case for the time being because if there is intense fighting it is very difficult for any humanitarian worker to work in Yemen. We have 250 staff members in Yemen in four different locations and they are close to the people so we hope we can provide immediate relief as soon as we can and as much as we can.
But you will start distributing the medicine even though there is no assurance that the fighting will stop?
What we have now is permission to bring the supplies to Yemen, we asked also for a humanitarian truce, but I don't know if there will be a ceasefire. Whenever the situation allows our team will move around and distribute the medical supplies. Right now, there is no ceasefire but that does not mean that we will wait for one to come in order to work. We are trying to coordinate our movements with the conflict parties, but we will not wait for a ceasefire to happen before we bring our medicines to the hospitals. People cannot afford to wait anymore.
Sitara Jabeen works for the International Committee of the Red Cross to coordinate aid to Yemen.
Interview. Diana Hodali