(LONDON) — At least 78 people are dead and dozens more were injured after a stampede at a school in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday evening, according to local officials. The tragedy occurred on one of the last days of Ramadan, as people were reportedly gathering to receive a handout of about $9 per person that was being distributed by merchants.
Witnesses told officials the stampede was caused by someone trying to control the crowd by shooting into the air. The shooting reportedly hit an electrical wire which fell on the ground and caused electroshocks, which triggered more panic in the crowd, witnesses said.
The Houthi-run Interior Ministry said the stampede happened at a “random distribution of sums of money by some merchants,” blaming the merchants for the lack of organization and not coordinating with ministry officials.
Motaher al-Marouni, a senior health official in Sanaa, said at least 13 people were seriously injured, according to the Al-Masirah satellite TV channel.
The aid distributors quickly sealed off the school where the event was planned and barred people and journalists from approaching.
The two merchants in charge of the matter were arrested, the Interior Ministry said.
Sanaa has been under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2014. An ongoing civil war between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government directly claimed the lives of at least 150,000 people by the end of 2021, according to a United Nations report.
The number of casualties in the civil war could be 377,000 when including those killed through “both direct and indirect impacts,” the UN said.
Even before the recent conflict, according to the UN, Yemen was already the poorest nation in the Arab region, suffering from weak development as a result of local conflicts, chronic food insecurity and uncertain political transition.
About 20.7 million people out of the total population of 30.5 million in Yemen are currently in need of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF said, with 14.3 million people in acute need. The agency says around £10 ($12.45) provides life-saving therapeutic food for a child in Yemen for a week.
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