Battle is imminent in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, and the result is likely to have serious consequences on both the war and the lives of Yemeni civilians.
Hodeidah is Yemen’s third-largest city, and it’s a vital gateway into the country. Up to 80% of the country’s imports of food, medicines, and aid shipments go through this Red Sea city.
With 22.2 million people in Yemen currently in need of aid, according to the United Nations, and at least 8 million living on the verge of famine, lives depend on the port city staying open.
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And yet, around eight miles away, Saudi-backed coalition forces are waiting to launch a potentially devastating assault on the city.
Hodeidah has been held by Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015 but, after weeks of heavy fighting, troops loyal to the government are closing in — and they’re arrived much faster than many were expecting, according to the Independent.
The UN has warned that any attempt to seize Hodeidah would threaten the flow of aid shipments that so many are relying on, according to Al Jazeera.
“The key question isn’t whether the coalition can take Hodeidah,” tweeted Gerald Feierstein, a director at the Middle East Institute. “It’s what they intend to do next. Can they use control of the port to ensure humanitarian supplies can get in unimpeded?”
Already, the more than three-year conflict has claimed over 10,000 lives, and has displaced 3 million people.
Hodeidah was one of the country’s ports that were totally sealed off by the Saudi-led coalition in November 2017, in what the coalition said was an attempt to stop the flow of weapons to the Houthi rebels from Iran — a claim that Iran has denied.
That closure pushed a further 3.2 million people into hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). And, according to the Independent, humanitarian agencies have said the blockade was a significant driver of famine in the country.
Now, Save the Children spokesperson Bhanu Bhatnagar has warned that a complete closure of Hodeidah port “would lead to a devastating cut in the humanitarian and commercial support chain just as it’s needed most.”
“Food imports have already reached the lowest levels since the conflict started and the price of basic commodities has risen by a third,” Bhatnagar is quoted as saying in the Independent.
Save the Children further warned that an additional 340,000 people could be displaced if the report was attacked, following Amnesty International’s previous warning that there is a lack of shelter for displaced people.
Amnesty International released a report earlier this month that featured the testimonies of civilians who were fleeing the violence, as government-loyal troops made their way towards Hodeidah. They had arrived in the southern city of Aden, after they were forced from the villages and home towns between January and early May.
One woman said she had had a miscarriage as soon as she arrived in Aden, saying it was due to the fear and exhaustion of trying to flee.
“There were rockets flying above us,” said another 25-year-old woman, who fled with her two daughters, aged 9 months, and 4 years old. “Someone would stop us and say there are projectiles, and then someone else would stop us and say there are landmines, and we would just scream.”
“All the way from when we left and until we arrived we were screaming and crying,” she added. “We saw dead bodies and saw others ripped to pieces. We left not thinking we would survive. We thought we would surely die… [but] by the end of it we hoped we died instead of going through what we went through.”
Rawya Rageh, a senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, said the most vulnerable civilians are bearing the brunt of the new offensive.
“The human impact of this fresh military offensive on Yemen’s western coastal areas is clear in the distressing stories shared by civilians displaced by the conflict,” Rageh said. “It is a glimpse of what potentially lies in store on a wider scale if the fighting encroaches on the densely-populated port city of Hodeidah.”
“All parties have an obligation to do their utmost to protect civilians,” Rageh added. “They are putting the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands more at risk.”
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