Yemen: Cholera Epidemic Demands more and more Victims

SRF-interview of Isabelle Jacobi with Peter Maurer, President IKRK

mw. The president of the IKRK, Peter Maurer, shows us quite plainly that in Yemen and many other countries of the world where the population suffers inexpressibly from war, hunger and epidemics our help is urgently needed. It is the task of the IKRK to give humanitarian emergency relief to the people, to care for the prisoners of war and to claim the observance of the international humanitarian law by the war parties. And it is the self-imposed obligation of the neutral state Switzerland as office/place of the IKRK and Depositary State of the Geneva Convention to support the work of the IKRK by any means.
    We Swiss people are called to give our personal contribution to the extent deemed possible for each individual, be it a smaller or bigger financial donation, be it through passing down the tradition of Swiss neutrality to our children and grandchildren. The taking part of Swiss soldiers in NATO manoeuvers does definitively not belong to this – or do we want to make us morally co-responsible for the NATO wars? For Switzerland there is really a lot more meaningful and more human to do in this world.

[Translate to en:] Peter Maurer, der Präsident des Internationalen Komitees vom Roten Kreuz IKRK, inspiziert die von der saudiarabischen Koalition zerstörten historischen Gebäude in der Altstadt von von Sanaa im Jemen. (Bild keystone)

SRF: Since two and a half years there is civil war in Yemen between the Huthi-rebels and the government in Sanaa which is militarily supported by a coalition around Saudi Arabia. The war costed about 10 000 people’s lives. Hundreds of thousands lives are threatened because of hunger and epidemics. A cholera epidemic increasingly claims human lives. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross this week has travelled to Yemen to call attention to the humanitarian catastrophe and to negotiate with the war parties. I met Peter Maurer today in Sanaa and asked him: What kind of situation did you find in the war zones?

Peter Maurer: In those regions where the conflict really has raged during the last years, of course the destructions are visible. I have started my journey in Aden, then went along to Taizz, a town which has been besieged for a long time and even today is difficult to reach, and afterwards I carried on to Sanaa. Actually in all urban centres you see the witnesses of war quite clearly: The destruction of central infrastructures - electricity distribution facilities, water distribution facilities which were damaged by shelling, hospitals which at least partly don’t work anymore – all these are witnesses which naturally occupy our minds because of the humanitarian consequences in the field. That means if no more water is distributed, if there is no more electricity than the individuals, the single persons, the families, the civilian population are especially affected and this today is visible in Yemen in its whole blatancy.

How strong does the cholera epidemic make its presence felt? And to which extent?

Compared to other regions of the world where Cholera is present, the extent is after all alarming/terrifying. In the moment we have got the newest statistics with 400 000 suspected cases, with more than 1800 cases of death which we register now. And we see the direct and indirect consequences of this war: the impact on the water supply, on the waste recycling, what in turn leads to polluted water that these cycles are severely disturbed and this again leads to the spread of cholera. The fact that more and more people are internally displaced, displaced by war, is an accelerating factor for a countrywide spread of the epidemic. It is an exceptionally difficult situation because the population is certainly anyhow weakened by the consequences of the war. And this has led us to significantly expand our activities […].

Belligerent Powers have to abide by the Geneva Conventions

For a long time we have indicated – not specifically concerning Yemen – that if the belligerent powers do not abide by the international humanitarian law, if civilian infrastructure, if hospitals are attacked, which is absolutely forbidden by the Geneva Conventions, if civilian population is directly attacked that this has consequences which lead to epidemics. During my journey topics just like the observance of the international humanitarian law and a fundamental change of the conduct of war were centre stage. We cannot always give more and more humanitarian aid if simultaneously the belligerent powers are not willing to fundamentally change their behaviour und to help to remove the causes of this humanitarian crisis on the part of warfare, too. I think this is the situation we are in in Yemen today. We don’t know how the epidemic will further advance. Epidemics have the characteristic that they develop unpredictably in certain areas and there even may occur new epidemics or new pathogens. Today we are occupied with cholera.

Could you get somewhere during your visit? Do the belligerent parties listen to you/heed your advice?

[…] The population demands of those politically responsible that they change their behaviour and this leads especially thereto that during my visit for example the question of the prisoners, the access of the IKRK to the prisoners, the arrangement of possible prisoner exchange between the single detention camps were the main topic . I hope that we can visit all prisoners in Yemen in the foreseeable future what is not the case today, and I hope, that we at least in the dialogue with the belligerent powers can state a certain change in the next weeks and months.

By the humanitarian work of the IKRK we can give hope to the people

Even the aid money has only hesitantly started to flow. Has in your opinion the international community become in general more cold-hearted as far as emergency relief is concerned?

[…] I see that in many sections of the population there is a weariness to be confronted with new crises every day. Time and again there is somewhat of a resignation and I think, our task as humanitarian actors is to show that we can do something. Today Yemen is a country where we have a large health program that comes upon a great appreciation of the civilian population, that we can restore water systems again. And I think that we can give hope to people by our work. In this sense naturally we are motivated to extend our activities and to even convince the donor countries in Europe and elsewhere that it makes sense to support humanitarian work in a country like Yemen. Without this work it will be difficult to reconcile the populations and to initiate a trustworthy peace process.

Source: SRF from 27.7.17, Echo der Zeit

(Translation Current Concerns)

Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (fourth Geneva Convention)

Adopted in Geneva on 12 August 1949

Date of entry into force for Switzerland on 21 October 1950 (status as of 18 July 2014)

Article 3
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

  1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed ‘hors de combat‘ by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. […]
  2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
    An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict
    The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention. […]