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New report

Yemen and explosive weapons: A death sentence for civilians

Bombing in populated areas has wiped out decades of development in Yemen, according to a new Humanity & Inclusion report, “Death Sentence to Civilians: The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen.”

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In five years of war, Yemen has experienced every manner of explosive weapons—aerial bombs and missiles, artillery, mortars, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and much more. The explosions destroy bridges, ports, roads, hospitals, water systems, and generate long lasting civilian harm. When explosive weapons strike roads and bridges, they greatly increase the time it takes to re-supply cities. Such damage cuts deeply into food and water access, and has negative effects on population health.

“Bombing urban areas is a slow and silent health crime,” says Alison Bottomley, Advocacy Advisor for Humanity & Inclusion. “Vital medical health structures are being wiped out: 50% of health facilities can no longer fully function, reducing the country's medical and health-care capacity by half. Repetitive bombing of medical facilities and the destruction of sewage systems is decimating Yemen’s health infrastructure, encouraging the return of water-related diseases.”

The report highlights six case studies, showing the extent and impact of such bombings. The effects of the Hodeidah port bombing in 2015 can still be felt today. This single event triggered major, ongoing disruptions to the supply of basic goods, and resulted in steep price hikes for essential items, such as food. 

In fact, up to 600 civilian infrastructures were destroyed or damaged each month in 2018, according to the Humanitarian Needs Overview. In a country where 24.1 million people (three quarters of the population) need humanitarian aid, such damages only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

Fifty percent of medical facilities no longer function, while 19.7 million people are in need of healthcare and 17.8 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation. The economic blockade and disruption to the economy have inflated the cost of food and fuel.

With social and medical services disorganized and further weakened, the population is left acutely exposed in health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. “Entire populations—especially displaced people—are extremely vulnerable and have the least access to the health, water, and sanitation services they need to protect themselves from COVID-19,” Bottomley adds.

Civilian harm

Explosive weapons killed or injured nearly 16,300 people in Yemen between 2015 and 2018, according to the organization Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). About 80% of them were civilians. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas in Yemen, AOAV found that 95% of casualties were civilians.

“Bombing and shelling in Yemen kills and injures civilians on the spot,” Bottomley adds. “It also has a lingering and long-term impact for generations of people that will survive the war. If the war in Yemen were to end today, people would still have to bear the brunt of destroyed roads, bridges, hospitals and harbors. Even before the conflict, Yemen had insufficient health, water, and transportation infrastructure. Access to basic goods, including medicine and basic services, is much more limited now.”

Extensive bombing of populated areas has set Yemen back 21 years, according to the 2019 UNDP report, Assessing the Impact of War on development in Yemen. That’s a whole generation. Yemen will not be able to bear the appalling cost of reconstruction, or even the vital decontamination of explosive remnants of war that will be necessary prior to any reconstruction.

Diplomatic process to end bombing in urban areas

Humanity & Inclusion, as a co-founding member of International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), is working with States to develop a strong political declaration to end the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas and to ensure support to the victims of these weapons.

Negotiations for a political declaration to end the human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas started in Vienna on October 1-2, 2019. Two rounds of negotiations took place in Geneva during November 2019 and February 2020 and will be followed by another round of consultations later in 2020. This diplomatic process will be finalized with a political declaration that will be opened for endorsement.

So far, the U.S. has sent a delegation to meetings about the political declaration, but has opposed the political declaration.

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