Middle East

Hudaida’s hospitals not ready for escalation

A girl, displaced by the fighting in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, cries as she waits to ride a bus to move from a temporary IDPs center to schools allocated for them in Sanaa, Yemen June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

BEIRUT: Hudaida’s main hospitals, already ruined by years of siege, are struggling to cope with the recent wave of fighting, with medical staff warning that they are unprepared for any escalation.

“Hospitals are in no condition to deal with a large influx of wounded. After years of siege the medical infrastructure in the city is dire,” Walid al-Amad, deputy director of Hudaida health office, told The Daily Star.

The offensive launched over two weeks ago by the Arab-led coalition to retake the strategic western port from Iran-backed rebels has exacerbated the critical humanitarian situation in the besieged city.

The doctor lamented the state of health care in the city, saying the siege has all but incapacitated Hudaida’s two public hospitals, where the equipment is dated and medical staff are forced to rely on generators due to regular power cuts, which is unsustainable because of the scarcity of fuel.

Al-Thawra hospital, the biggest hospital in the province, was partly hit by air strikes earlier this month, Amad said, which prompted a significant number of the medical staff, especially female workers, to leave.

Al-Thawra, which also receives patients from surrounding provinces, is currently working at a capacity of 8 percent, while the second public hospital in the city is operating at 20 percent.

With a shortage of equipment, medicine and other surgical materials, it is almost impossible for doctors to perform complex surgeries. Patients requiring emergency care have been forced to wait before transfers to other hospitals can be arranged, the doctor said.

“We can only deal with basic cases, but when it comes to severe cases all we can do is stabilize the patient as much as we can and then transfer him or her to the capital, Sanaa,” he added.

Despite widespread shortages, private hospitals in Hudaida are under less pressure. However very few can afford them, adding to the pressure on the city’s public hospitals.

“Even before the war, Hudaida’s residents were simple people and their financial conditions are tough. They don’t have money to pay for private hospitals,” said a humanitarian worker who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Mona Luqman, a Yemeni activist and founder of the Yemeni Food4Humanity organization, said there was no emergency response plan in place for Hudaida despite many anticipating an offensive.

“It is shocking. People just found themselves in the middle of a battle, unprepared,” she said.

“The state of hospitals and clinics is outrageous especially after the millions of dollars in aid spent by international organizations on the ground in Yemen,” Luqman said.

Although fighting has abated over the past week since coalition forces seized Hudaida’s airport, civilians are still suffering from shortages of basic goods and water, caused by the destruction of the main water pipelines.

“Despite continued food imports arriving at port, market availability has declined. Some basic items including flour, vegetable oil and cooking gas are reported to be more scarce,” The Norwegian Refugee Council said.

The NRC also said prices have risen by 30 to 50 percent over the past week, demonstrating “the severe knock-on effects of any real or expected disruption to the port.”

“The situation was already bad in Hudaida but as the offensive started a lot of shops, supermarkets, pharmacies have closed, which drove the prices to soar,” a humanitarian worker from the village of Bajil in Hudaida province said.

The NRC reported that the majority of money exchange shops remain closed – a concern for those who can afford to buy basic goods but cannot because of the lack of cash supply.

“Food is scarce, especially wheat, the price of which has increased almost fourfold since June 13,” the humanitarian worker said.

Another activist said that people are unable to preserve the little food they have due to power cuts and the humid weather.

The security situation in Hudaida province remains volatile as sporadic fighting and airstrikes continue on the edges of the province, including in Al-Durihimi district and the town of Zabid.

However, the noticeable reduction of fighting and recent diplomatic efforts by the United Nations envoy for Yemen has not dissuaded residents from attempting to leave, as civilians fear an escalation of violence, while some internally displaced people are afraid to return because of land mines.

The NRC said some 43,000 people out of the total population of 3.3 million have been displaced inside and outside the province since the offensive started.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 30, 2018, on page 8.




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