In what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, millions of people with disabilities in Yemen have not only endured years of armed conflict but are also among the most excluded, Amnesty International said today.
“Yemen’s war has been characterized by unlawful bombings, displacement and a dearth of basic services, leaving many struggling to survive. The humanitarian response is overstretched, but people with disabilities – who are already among those most at risk in armed conflict – should not face even greater challenges in accessing essential aid,” said Rawya Rageh, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.
People with disabilities experience compounded difficulties fleeing violence. Many told Amnesty International they undertook exhausting displacement journeys without wheelchairs, crutches or other assistive devices. Almost all of them depended on their families or friends.
Some people with disabilities were left behind as their families fled because they were separated in the chaos, or because the trip was too difficult for the person with a disability to undertake.
Where people with disabilities could escape, the journey would often worsen their health condition or impairment. Some acquired a disability, at times because warring parties failed to give effective notice of attacks impacting civilians.
In camps for the displaced, Amnesty International observed design flaws affecting people with disabilities. This includes the design of latrines, as well as the location of aid distribution points – both of which strip people with disabilities of their independence and dignity by forcing them to rely on their families or others.
Yemen is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and has laws designed to protect the country’s at least 4.5 million people – 15% of the population – who have disabilities, according to World Health Organization estimates.
Public health care and social welfare have been hard hit by Yemen’s war and economic collapse, resulting in a systematic failure to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. Many rely on handouts or fend for themselves – with some forced into poverty to pay for basic supplies like medicines or adult diapers.
Family members said they sold belongings or delayed rent and other crucial payments to prioritize costs associated with supporting a loved one with a disability.
Assistive devices are also in very short supply. People with disabilities who do have them told Amnesty International they are often not fit for purpose – for example, wheelchairs that are no match for the rugged terrain of displacement camps, or ill-fitting prosthetic devices. Southern Yemen has only one prosthetic centre, which has to send some types of prosthetics abroad for repairs.
Yemen’s repeated conflicts have brought on a mental health crisis, with a significant proportion of the population – including many children – severely traumatized.
An average 25-year-old Yemeni has lived through 14 armed conflicts in their lifetime. Yet there is hardly any psychosocial support; there are only 40 psychiatrists in the entire country, most of them based in cities. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)