Saudi-backed Hodeida offensive 'will starve whole of Yemen'

Saudi-backed Hodeida offensive 'will starve whole of Yemen'
Clashes between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels, together with a 'hysterical bombardment' of coalition airstrikes have left the residents of Hodeida in a state of fear, despair and starvation.
4 min read
30 November, 2018
The battle to re-take Hodeida threatens all of Yemen [AFP]
Instability and a lack of security has gripped some four million Yemeni residents of the Hodeida governate, where Saudi-coalition airstrikes are aiding a fierce pro-government offensive to retake the port city.

Civilians have been forced to flee their homes multiple times to avoid clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces which intensified earlier this month before international pressure suspended a five-month battle to seize Hodeida.

"Hodeida is considered to be the poorest governate in Yemen," physician-turned-activist Ashwaq Moharram told The New Arab. "Even before the war, the residents of the port city were barely able to get their food, and now, because of this situation, it is near impossible.

"The humanitarian situation in the city is devastating," said Moharram, a resident of Hodeida who has for several years played a pivotal role in delivering aid to those in need across the country.

"There's a large number of internally displaced people who have moved from areas within the governate to avoid the fighting. The people of Hodeida are growing increasingly afraid," she added.

Clashes between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels, together with a "hysterical bombardment" of coalition airstrikes have already destroyed factories, homes, streets and organisation headquarters, Moharram said. "The fear is this will be expected on an even larger scale should the offensive enter the port city."

The city holds basic homes, including makeshift houses made of tin, "so if the offensive does indeed continue and reach the centre of the city, there will no doubt be a huge number of casualties as well as a large amount of destruction", Moharram said.

More than 600,000 residents live within the city itself, which has yet to witness the deadly urban warfare expected as pro-government troops enter from the outskirts of the city.

But while United Nations figures suggest 250,000 are in immediate danger, fears have grown for the entire nation.

Though the poorest of Yemen's governates, Hodeida became its most vital, and since a Saudi-led coalition air, land and sea embargo on Yemen, the port city has played a crucial role in feeding the Middle East's most impoverished state.
At least 70 percent of Yemen's imports are currently driven through Hodeida, which has been under Houthi rebel control since the conflict intensified in 2015. In fact, two-thirds of Yemen's entire 28 million population depends on aid delivered through the port city to survive.

"On average, human rights organisations deliver aid to families once a month," said Moharram, noting this was not adequate for a typical family in Hodeida, which may include up to eight people. "Some families do not ever receive or see aid at all."

Even for those who, like Moharram, lead humanitarian projects on the ground, delivering aid consistently is an issue. On Wednesday, aid agencies said only one road remains open to the vital Yemeni port of Hodeida, which has now been entirely encircled by the Saudi-led military coalition.

"There are families in the western districts of Hodeida where there is fighting that I haven't been able to contact due to the situation. There is no electricity, no phone lines and no way to reach them," Moharram said. "There are people that have literally starved to death in their own homes, there are those that died due to illnesses and diseases. Even the central hospital in Hodeida has run out of medication."

Horrifying images showing Yemen's starving children have shocked most of the world, prompting global outrage and calls for action

Peace efforts

More than three years into the deadly conflict, efforts to end the war have intensified in recent weeks. Horrifying images showing Yemen's starving children have shocked most of the world, prompting global outrage and calls for action.

On Thursday, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock appealed for a halt to fighting in Yemen amid intense diplomacy to end a war that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Meanwhile, UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths is hoping to bring the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels to Sweden in the coming days for negotiations on ending the conflict, which local aid groups believe has killed more than 50,000 - a figure which eclipses the official, but likely outdated, UN death toll of 10,000.

The United States, which has supported the coalition, last month made a surprise call for a ceasefire and threw its weight behind the UN-led effort to hold peace talks.
In the UK, a British-drafted resolution presented to the UN last week called for an immediate truce in the port city of Hodeida and demanded a two-week deadline for the warring sides to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid.

"War is destruction - it has killed and it has starved," Moharram said. "This conflict must end so that we as a nation can begin to heal from this pain we have endured. The only option is to end the conflict and return to dialogue."

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino