It has been a tragic month for the staff and patients at Médecins Sans Frontières, the international health organization also known by the English translation of its name, Doctors Without Borders. On October 3, one of the organization’s hospitals in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was destroyed in a US air strike, killing 30 people.
The White House later apologized for the attack and said it was a mistake.
This week, another Médecins Sans Frontières hospital was destroyed in an air raid — this time in the town of Hayden, Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting against anti-government rebels. MSF has blamed the Saudi-led coalition for the attack, though the Saudis have denied the accusation.
According to Natalie Roberts, an MSF doctor who worked extensively at the same hospital, staff in Hayden are constantly at risk from the fighting. “It was pretty terrifying,” she said. “The town was very heavily bombed by airstrikes almost every day. Moving up to that place was terrifying and being in that place was scary. The staff used to sleep in the hospital, as the only place they considered safe."
Roberts says that she remembers the sound of nearby airstrikes as one of her strongest memories of working in Hayden. “Every day I was there, or spent time there, I would hear the planes flying around. And the next village along would be bombed even more.”
Although no one was killed in the recent airstrike, Roberts is certain that its destruction will cost lives. The nearest medical facility is now a 40 minute drive away; a drive which many injured patients are unlikely to survive. She says the attack is part of a larger erosion of the taboo against attacking humanitarian targets.
“I do feel that there’s an increasing disrespect for international humanitarian law," she explains. "It very clearly says in law that hospitals should be protected. Hospitals should not be hit. In Yemen, it seems that since the conflict started, many civilian targest such as hospitals, schools and markets have been hit."
An official statement from the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations said that "the causes of the blasts in the hospital could not be known without conducting a thorough investigation."