GENEVA — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday it was scrambling to airlift medical supplies to Yemen to help hospitals struggling with heavy casualties caused by fierce fighting, particularly in the southern city of Aden.
More than 540 people have been killed and 1,700 wounded by the fighting since March 19, Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told reporters in Geneva.
At least 74 children are known to have been killed in fighting since March 26 and 44 “maimed,” Christophe Boulierac, the spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency, reported.
Aid agencies, however, fear the toll is much higher in Yemen, the Middle East’s most impoverished country. A Saudi-led military coalition has been bombing there for the past two weeks in an effort to defeat the insurgent Houthi movement and restore Yemen’s exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The intensity of the fighting in Aden has prevented medical teams from collecting the many bodies reportedly strewn around the city’s streets, said Sitara Jabeen, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Geneva, citing reports from the organization’s staff members in the city.
“Every day is worse than the previous day,” Ms. Jabeen said in an interview. “Aden at the moment is like a ghost town. People don’t come out of their homes. Some areas are cut off from any help.”
A cargo aircraft was being loaded Tuesday night in Amman, Jordan, with 16 tons of Red Cross medical supplies, mostly kits for treating the wounded, Ms. Jabeen said, and it was to fly to Sana, the Yemeni capital, Wednesday morning.
A second flight loaded with 32 tons of supplies, including medical kits, generators and hospital tents, was scheduled to leave Geneva in time to reach Sana’a before midday on Thursday, she said.
Aden cannot be reached by air because of damage to the airport, but a seven-person Red Cross surgical unit was standing by in nearby Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, preparing to cross to Aden by sea.
The Red Cross unit was unable to make the crossing Tuesday when fighting was reported in the port, and it had not received clearance to travel to the city.