The civilian population in Yemen is a hostage of their own country

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The UN Secretary General, Guterres, has harshly criticized the war in Yemen. Karl-Otto Zentel, of the CARE organization, explains in an interview regarding the humanitarian catastrophe of this forgotten war.

Jemen Cholera (Getty Images / AFP / M. Huwais)

Q: According to the United Nations, of the 28 million Yemenis, more than 20 million need help. Seven million go hungry. Millions suffer from diphtheria or cholera. As general secretary of CARE in Germany, you were in Yemen at the beginning of the year. What was your impression?

Karl-Otto Zentel: The country is marked by almost three years of civil war. The private sector and the public sector have collapsed. State employees have not received any salary for months. The reserves of the families have been exhausted. Poverty grows with each day.

 Karl-Otto Zentel, general secretary of CARE Germany.Karl-Otto Zentel, general secretary of CARE Germany.

One of the reasons why people go hungry is the blockade of the border by the Saudi military alliance. The transport of aid with food, fuel or medication can no longer reach its destination, at least in the northern part of the country. How does this affect your work as a humanitarian organization?

Yemen always had to import 80 to 90 percent of its staple foods. These imports were made partly by land routes from Saudi Arabia, but mainly by sea. The main ports of the country are in the north, now controlled by the Houthi rebels. This has dramatic effects for our work. We have reached a point where every ten minutes a child dies of an avoidable disease in Yemen.

Is the civilian population taken hostage in this conflict?

Effectively. This affects all sides in this war. It is almost impossible to leave Yemen. All parties to this conflict take their own population hostage.

Objective of the Saudi bombs: the capital of Yemen, Sana'aObjective of the Saudi bombs: the capital of Yemen, Sana’a

Should international pressure, for example on Saudi Arabia, be increased to lift at least the blockade of ports and the land border?

Clearly, international pressure should be increased. The situation in Yemen receives very little attention. I think that is also a reason why the necessary pressure is missing. All the mechanisms we have to resolve conflicts worldwide have failed miserably in Yemen. 

Humanitarian organizations like CARE have to prepare for different situations. What would be a negative or positive scenario for Care?  

The positive scenario would be a peace agreement. It would be the basis and the prerequisite for a sustainable improvement of the situation in the country. Our scenario of horror would be to block the ports further and restrict air access. In this case, aid supplies would no longer reach the country, cholera would continue to spread, there would be more diseases and malnutrition of the population would increase.

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