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Doctors Without Borders Hospital Bombed In Yemen


News today of another airstrike on another Doctors Without Borders hospital - this one in Yemen. There's a battle for control of that impoverished Arab country. Forces loyal to an exiled president are pushing their way north to the capital, Sanaa. They're backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which is also conducting an air campaign across the country. NPR's Alice Fordham follows the situation in Yemen from her base in Beirut. And Alice, what happened with the airstrike and the hospital?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, Doctors Without Borders say they were hit by an airstrike late last night. That would most likely be the Saudi-led coalition, as they largely control Yemen's airspace. Although, Saudi Arabia has not commented on the incident. The first strike was on the side of the hospital. And so the doctors and patients were able to run away, and no one way badly injured in the whole incident. But there were several more hits on the hospital which caused widespread destruction to it.

Now, this was a hospital that served 200,000 people. There's very few medical facilities in this remote area. And Doctors Without Borders say that the building itself was a hundred yards away from any other buildings, which they figure means it couldn't have been hit by mistake. And they say they supplied the coalition with the coordinates of the hospital. The United Nations have called for an investigation. And in fact, Natalie Roberts, the doctor I spoke with today, said she wanted to highlight that it's not just this hospital that's been hit.

SIEGEL: She says a lot of other hospitals have been hit.

FORDHAM: Yeah - hospitals, markets, schools. And this is all over the country. The U.N. said just a couple days ago that more than 2,500 civilians have been killed since this conflict began in Yemen in March. Many of them have been killed by airstrikes. This is an air campaign that the United States does support with intelligence. They coordinate from inside Saudi Arabia. Saudi has said they're targeting only the rebels inside Yemen known as Houthis. And in that same U.N. statement I mentioned, there was also mounting concern about the toll on civilians in the central city of Taiz.

SIEGEL: Taiz is now a focus of the fighting.

FORDHAM: Right. So the rebels have been pushed out of much of the South, and the big city as you head north before you reach the capital, Sanaa, is Taiz. And as one aid worker said to me today, this is a war with no good guys, which - he meant to say the Houthis are striking civilians also. The U.N. says on October 21, at least 15 civilians were killed in indiscriminate shelling in Taiz by the Houthi rebels. And for six weeks, the Houthis have also essentially besieged the city. They're not letting in medicine or food, and some reports suggest they detained people for trying to smuggle in water.

SIEGEL: So they're blocking food, water, medicine from reaching Taiz, but aren't we hearing that food's getting scarce all over Yemen?

FORDHAM: Yeah. Recent humanitarian reports say shortage of food is becoming more and more of a problem. Yemen was one of the world's hungriest countries before this war. Now the U.N. says it's treated a hundred-thousand children under 5 who are severely malnourished. It says half-a-million more are at risk. Those numbers have more than tripled since the fighting started in March.

And aid workers say the main problem with food is what's been called a de facto maritime blockade by Saudi Arabia. That basically means that Yemen is hardly importing any food or fuel - like, 1 percent of its usual fuel needs - so water pumps - ambulances aren't working. And Yemen usually imports most of its food, so when very little's coming in, that means people who were already short of food before the war are drastically affected.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Alice Fordham in Beirut. Thank you, Alice.

FORDHAM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.