Aid projects funded by Oxfam in Yemen have been hit in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, it has emerged, as the British government faces mounting pressure to halt arms sales to Riyadh.
A vital cholera treatment centre in Abs, in the Hajjah province, was hit in June in coalition war strikes – which are supported by British intelligence – despite the location being reported to the Saudi alliance more than 12 times.
Two months before that, coalition air raids severely damaged an Oxfam-supported water supply system that provided water for 6,000 people.
The British charity – supported by UK and European funding – revealed the news after Oxfam’s Dina el-Mamoun told the International Development Committee this week that UK aid had been bombed.
Oxfam’s head of advocacy, Toni Pearce, called British policy towards Yemen “irresponsible and incoherent”, three years into a war which has sparked the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in numbers of people and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
She said: “On the one hand, British aid is a vital lifeline, on the other, British bombs are helping to fuel an ongoing war that is leading to countless lives being lost each week to fighting, disease and hunger.
“The UK continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, whose coalition bombing campaign in Yemen has cut off vital food supplies, destroyed hospitals and homes, and hit aid programmes funded by British taxpayers.”
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) reported in June 2015 that coalition warplanes destroyed a warehouse of UK-funded aid in an airstrike. DFID declined to comment on the latest projects hit.
Since Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched a bombing campaign to oust the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the spring of 2015, the UK has sold an estimated £3.87billion worth of arms to Riyadh.
And despite reassurances from the UK government that its intelligence support and training of the Saudi-led forces is helping reduce civilian casualties, the latest report from the Yemen Data Project (YDP) shows that 48 per cent of all known airstrikes hit non-military targets.
YDP spokesperson Iona Craig told The Independent: “Since the Saudi/UAE-led coalition launched the ground offensive against [the city of] Hodeidah in June, the data has shown a significant rise in non-military targeting.
“This is now a trend that has continued since June and peaked in September with 48 per cent of air raids targeting civilian sites.”
She continued: “This continuing rise of civilian targeting has also been reflected in the casualty figures.”
Apart from October 2015, which matched that percentage, September saw the highest rate since the start of the three-year long war, reported the organisation, which tracks the airstrikes.
Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield and former international development secretary, described the UK’s policy on Yemen as punching a person in the face and then offering them a plaster.
“These statistics lay bare the errors of judgment which Britain has made in its support for the Saudi coalition on Yemen,” he told The Independent.
“Instead of using our influence at the UN to secure a ceasefire and a peace process we are widely viewed as complicit in causing monstrous famine conditions.
“Britain makes a point of emphasising our financial support for Yemen through aid but this is a bit like punching him in the face and then offering him a sponge and an Elastoplast.
Theresa May has supported “de-escalation” in Yemen but stopped short of endorsing US demands for a ceasefire. She has faced mounting pressure from opposition and Conservative Party MPs to rethink the relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of the UK’s chief allies in the region.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, who sits on the International Development Committee and the Committee on Arms Export Controls, said bombing our own aid was a “grim irony”.
He told The Independent: “The government maintains the deceit that the British troops embedded in the Saudi air command centres are there to reduce civilian deaths in Yemen. As the number of civilian strikes are rising, both absolutely and as a proportion of total strikes, it either means our military presence in Saudi Arabia is totally ineffectual or that Britain is coordinating these attacks against civilians.”
The Saudi-led coalition began bombing the country in 2015, imposing a crippling land, sea and air blockade. The campaign was intended to re-instate president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels when they took control of the country in 2014.
The Houthis have been accused of bombing aid convoys and laying siege to pro-government areas, leading to starvation.
Peace negotiations collapsed this September, and despite calls for renewed talks, thousands of government troops are amassing around the Red sea port of Hodeidah ahead of a renewed offensive.
In the interim the conflict has sparked a humanitarian crisis – with two thirds of Yemen’s population now relying on aid.
Lise Grande, the UN’s coordinator for Yemen, said last month that as many as 13 million civilians could die from starvation if the bombardment continues. On Friday the United Nations warned that a looming famine could put 2 million mothers at risk of death.
Saudi Arabia has come under increased scrutiny for its attacks, which have hit hospitals, schools, homes and market places.
The Gulf coalition has repeatedly denied accusations by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch that its actions in Yemen amount to war crimes, or that it strikes civilian infrastructure.
They maintain that they conduct comprehensive reconnaissance before each mission, and have in the past accused the Houthis of using civilians as human shields.
This week Doctors Without Borders said their health facilities have been hit five times by the coalition since the war erupted in 2015, killing 21 patients and staff, and injuring 33 others.
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