The impact of food scarcity in Yemen now rivals attacks on civilian lives, as violence continues. Centred around the port city of Al-Hudaydah (Hodeidah), the ongoing conflict poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of humanitarian aid in the area. Al-Hudaydah is located in eastern Yemen on the Red Sea coast, with a population of approximately 2.4 million.

The crisis is being called Yemen’s worst in 100 years, as food and fuel prices soar due to deflation of the Yemeni Rial.

Stopping humanitarian aid from preventing Yemen’s impending famine is a lack of consistent access from ports centres to large population centres in the north and west areas of the country. Bombings to major centres like Al-Hudaydah destroys infrastructure relied upon for food production, and Yemen now depends largely on external resources. According to the World Food Programme, clashes on Al-Hudaydah’s outskirts have prevented access to the Red Sea Mills, where 51,000 metric tons of wheat grain is stored – enough to feed 3.5 million people for a month.

Displacement also affects the efficacy of humanitarian operations, as camps often fail to provide adequate shelter during winter months, and food supplies insufficient for growing numbers of the displaced. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on 9 November 2018 that the total number of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Yemen, since the conflict began in 2015, has reached 2 million. 89% of those people have been displaced for a year or more. According to IOM’s Emergency Displacement Tracking Matrix, conflict in Al-Hudaydah accounts for the displacement of 74,468 households (446,808 individuals) since June 2018.

Loss of public health, water, and sanitation facilities to armed groups intensifies the consequences of food scarcity. Al-Hudaydah continues to experience heavy bombing and gunfire, enclosing on the area around Al-Thawra hospital, the only remaining functioning hospital in the district. Loss of access to Al-Thawra would greatly endanger the lives of injured civilians requiring medical attention, and those suffering from acute malnutrition and the spread of disease.

Lacking the safety and facilities to operate, humanitarian aid workers cannot administer medical assistance and immunisation campaigns. Not only are the Yemeni people being starved by those perpetuating armed conflict; they lack access to life-saving immunizations to prevent the spread of diseases, like Cholera.

“We have to keep all the ports open, we have to keep all the main roads open, we have to keep them functional, we have to keep them safe. No humanitarian site should be used for military purposes … the lifeline through which the aid operation runs now hangs by a thread.” – United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock.

Belgian NGO, International Crisis Group (ISG), reported 21 November 2018 the dire situation that will result if Saudi/Emirati backers like the United States continue to enable coalition attacks on the eastern coast. Read more on how ISG suggests the international community prevent Yemeni famine here.

“International stakeholders thus face a stark yet simple choice: prevent a destructive battle for Hodeida or assume complicity, through inaction, in mass starvation. They should not only choose the former but also move quickly to end the siege of Hodeida so that the present emergency does not recur.” – International Crisis Group

In an attempt to bypass the conflict in Al-Hudaydah, humanitarian aid agencies supported by the UN and World Food Program have organized the logistics of food and supplies distribution from other port cities like Aden, on Yemen’s south coast, and Mokha on Yemen’s south west coast. From here, trucks transport rations and supplies throughout the country to clusters of IDP. Take a look at the process in Aden here.

Save the Children reports that it can take two to three weeks longer for supplies to reach areas in need from Aden than it would from the Al-Hudaydah port. Lack of access to transportation routes, combined with spreading of displacement away from Yemen’s west coast adds to this time frame. Further funding is needed on a continuous basis for humanitarian aid operations too keep up with growing need in Yemen, and to combat the impact of the region’s conflict on aid distribution and insufficient infrastructure.


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Photo © European Union 2018 (photo by: Peter Biro) via Flickr

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