Yemen civilians trapped by blockades and violence
More than two months after the launch of Decisive Operation Storm, risk of a food crisis escalates as Yemeni civilians bear the brunt of the fighting and blockades
Jun 5 2015
Since the Arab coalition launched Decisive Operation Storm, with the support of the international community, nearly 2,000 people have been killed and more than 8,000 injured.
As is often the case, civilians have suffered most: trapped by violence and struggling to meet their basic needs amid port and airport blockades that are limiting access to fuel and food. According to UN figures, a million people have been forced from their homes.
As parties to the conflict prepare for peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland on 14 June, Action Against Hunger reiterates its urgent plea for the lifting of blockades on essential goods and supplies, which are crippling communities and restricting aid agencies’ ability to reach and help those who need them most.
“Nothing has improved for over three months,” said Franck Lepaul, director of Action Against Hunger’s operations in Yemen. “Combined with fuel shortages, an inability to supply basic goods is problematic.”
While it’s been possible to provide some humanitarian aid to Sana'a, access remains extremely limited in the worst affected areas, such as Aden or Lahij in the south of the country.
The conflict and blockade have prevented the import of food and fuel – 90 per cent of Yemen’s food is imported, as is 50 per cent of Yemen’s fuel.
An emergency response team was sent to Yemen on 25 May to support and strengthen the programmes we run for severely malnourished children, particularly in Sana'a and Hodeida. Even before the conflict, Yemen had one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world.
"Hospitals and NGOs are frequently running out of stock,” said Lepaul. “Fortunately this problem is not yet widespread. Caregivers are also struggling to get to people in need because they don’t have the fuel to get there.”
Even where certain foods are still available, the rising prices of staples such as wheat make them unaffordable for the poorest.
"In Sana'a, 50 kilos of flour increased from US$20 to US$ 50 recently," said Gwenaelle Garnier, nutrition and health coordinator for Action Against Hunger in Yemen.
In Aden, some foods, including wheat, are barely available now: we expect an inevitable and rapid deterioration in the food situation there.
In the north, people remain on the move– trying to escape violence and seeking the basics they need to survive, particularly in the governorates of Amran and Hajjah, but also areas of Sa'ada and Harad. In total, more than half a million Yemenis have been displaced.
Action Against Hunger is continuing its emergency response for people in 10 districts of Hodeida and Hajjah, whether those people are displaced or not. We have cared for 71 children with the most deadly form of malnutrition, and 217 others have received medical attention for respiratory diseases, diarrhoea and skin infections. In both districts, we have also distributed hygiene kits and water filters to 1,000 families, and 50,000 people have received food assistance.
The blockade must be lifted
In endorsing the establishment of an arms embargo, the UN resolution 2216 has resulted in a near total blockade of the country. Yemen’s civilians should not pay the price of a collective decision by the UN Security Council.
Humanitarian aid, which is already limited, cannot meet the basic needs of the nearly 20 million Yemenis the UN estimates are now in need of humanitarian assistance – that’s 78 per cent of the entire population and a 4 million increase since the escalation of the conflict in March.
Around 12 million Yemenis are struggling to find their next meal, up 1.4 million since March. Another five million are severely food insecure, meaning they often go for days without a meal.
Alternative action that allows the entry of basic goods into Yemen must be implemented urgently.
"This ongoing blockade of the country is increasingly suffocating communities,” said Lepaul. “It is unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view, from an international humanitarian law perspective, and it’s extremely dangerous.
“A sharp increase in food insecurity in the weeks and months ahead, with pockets of famine, is now a credible hypothesis."