Rights group slams Houthi denial of UN access to aging tanker

Rights group slams Houthi denial of UN access to aging tanker
HRW has condemned Houthi authorities’ refusal to allow the UN access to the FSO Safer oil tanker off Yemen’s coast. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Rights group slams Houthi denial of UN access to aging tanker

Rights group slams Houthi denial of UN access to aging tanker
  • HRW: Millions of Yemeni livelihoods at risk from ‘stonewalling’ of inspectors
  • Oil spill in Red Sea could impact 10% of world trade

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned Houthi authorities’ refusal to allow the UN access to a decaying oil tanker off Yemen’s coast, and repeated warnings that an oil leak would have “catastrophic environmental and humanitarian” consequences for millions of Yemenis.
The tanker could spill over a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea just 5 miles off the Yemeni coast.
Despite this risk, HRW on Monday said the Houthis are “stonewalling” UN attempts to board the ship and assess the danger it poses.
“The Houthi authorities are recklessly delaying UN experts’ access to the deteriorating oil tanker that threatens to destroy entire ecosystems and demolish the livelihoods of millions of people already suffering from Yemen’s war,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW.
“The UN’s top experts are on standby to prevent the worst and should immediately be allowed on board the vessel.” 
Fears of an explosion and ensuing oil spill from the tanker were heightened in May when seawater entered the engine room. The leak was fixed but the incident highlighted the urgency of the situation.
Both HRW and the UN have warned repeatedly of the devastating impact that a spill from the tanker would have on the Yemeni people.
In July, the head of the UN’s environmental agency said a spill could destroy the Red Sea ecosystems upon which almost 30 million people depend, including at least 125,000 Yemeni fishermen and 1.6 million people in their communities who already rely heavily on humanitarian aid.
It would also destroy 500 sq. km of agricultural land used by about 3 million Yemeni farmers, the UN said, as well as pollute 8,000 water wells and create harmful levels of air pollutants for over 8 million people. 
A spill of such magnitude would also shut down Hodeida and Saleef ports for up to six months, seriously undermining Yemen’s ability to import 90 percent of its food and other essential aid and commercial commodities.
“A spill could also cripple one of the world’s busiest commercial shipping routes through the Red Sea, which accounts for about 10 percent of world trade,” HRW said.
The potential impact of a spill from the oil tanker is compounded by the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which began when Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa in 2015, resulting in what the UN has called the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 50 min 24 sec ago

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”