11/01/2016 12:19 GMT | Updated 11/01/2017 05:12 GMT

On the Precipice of Disaster


Michael in Yemen in 2010

Since the conflict escalated in March last year, 30 civilians are made casualties of war every day in Yemen. Houses and hospitals are bombed, whole civilian areas cut-off and under siege, and people are fleeing for their lives on a daily basis. After nine months of fighting, the country is sinking into a disaster of immense proportions and deeply tragic consequences.

Eight out of every ten people living in Yemen - a population over 24 million - need humanitarian assistance right now, and more than half are on the brink of starvation. The Red Cross is committed to providing assistance to all those that need it, but is restricted by insecurity and a persistent lack of humanitarian access. This must be secured urgently.

Despite recent peace talks hosted by the United Nations Special Envoy in December, violence, in which innocent civilians are the principal victims, continues to intensify. Last Tuesday, UN officials reported that an aerial bomb destroyed a rehabilitation centre for the blind in the Alsafyeh area of Sana'a early that morning. The latest footage from our colleagues in the country shows patients being treated in damaged buildings, with poor equipment. Hospitals in Yemen are no longer a place of safety for the sick and wounded.

Parties to armed conflicts are obliged under international humanitarian law to protect medical facilities; however, during 2015 there were at least 100 reported armed attacks on hospitals, clinics and ambulances - including those supported by international aid agencies. The nature and frequency of these attacks overwhelm health workers in Yemen and result in widespread denial of healthcare to those who urgently need it.

Since fighting began 600 healthcare facilities in Yemen have been forced to close due to insecurity and shortages of fuel, oxygen and medicines. People who have survived the conflict are dying because of the lack of the most simple medical interventions, and over half the population struggle to access any kind of healthcare at all. Using weapons or methods of warfare that are indiscriminate, and targeting civilian populations is prohibited by international humanitarian law; parties to the conflict must allow humanitarian and health workers access to affected populations without fear of attack or impediment.

Despite extant threats, the British Red Cross' local and international colleagues - the Yemen Red Crescent and ICRC - persist in their commitment to reach the most vulnerable in Yemen. Yemen Red Crescent ambulance volunteers continue to brave the threat of gunfire and threat of kidnap to provide basic health services to people - bringing patients to hospital and providing emergency medical care to isolated communities. These volunteers face many dangers - including injury and death - however, they are committed to the impartial treatment of Yemen's war-wounded and the Red Cross principle of voluntary service.

They and many other local humanitarian volunteers are the unsung heroes of Yemen's silent emergency. The overwhelming needs are more than they could have imagined; they deserve our respect and support. You can help the British Red Cross' partners in Yemen, including local volunteers; reach those stranded on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster by donating to the British Red Cross Yemen Crisis Appeal.