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Famine imminent in Yemen

20 November 20180 comments

A battle is raging across the streets of the Yemeni city of Hodeida upon which hinges the fate of 14 million people.

The city is a vital port city in the impoverished, war-torn country through which crucial food and medicine has been flowing.

But the Saudi-backed Sunni pro-government forces have been trying to seize the port from opposing Shia Houthi rebels accusing them of using it to ship arms from Iran.

So, the city of 2.5 million people has become the latest epicentre of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has been raging in the Middle East for more than a decade.

And recently, despite a call from the US and others for a ceasefire, the fighting has intensified.

Almost 600 people have been killed since fighting erupted in the city on November 1, ending the short-lived halt of government offensives, which began back in June.

The UN has warned of a possible “catastrophic situation” and that “famine will engulf the nation” if the port is destroyed.

“The fighting must stop, a political debate must begin and we must prepare a massive humanitarian response to avoid the worst next year,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

In Australia, Amnesty International has called on the federal government to halt all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Currently, just under half of the Arab nation’s emaciated population desperately need food, medicine and supplies and more than 75 per cent of it arrives in Yemen through the crucial Red Sea port.

UN Relief Chief Mark Lowcock told the UN the Security Council recently that “there is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing the country”.

Famine has been coming to Yemen for much of the three and a half years of war, with food prices shooting up as a result of a collapsing currency.

A year ago, the Saudi-led pro-government coalition fighting Houthi rebels, and their allies, temporarily closed Yemen’s air, land, and sea borders in response to a rocket sent by the Houthis towards Riyadh.

Aid agencies issued a statement at the time expressing concern that “the humanitarian situation is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel, and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death”.

The blockade was later eased and some aid was allowed in, but aid agencies say that when it comes to averting famine, commercial imports are more important than relief supplies.

In most of Yemen, food is still available but many people simply don’t have money to buy it.

Yemen’s currency has crashed, causing food and fuel prices to rise further impacting the average Yemeni’s ability to purchase what they need to survive.

The UN now estimates that 14 million Yemenis, half the country, are about to enter what it terms “pre-famine” conditions. This means they will have rely on aid just to stay alive.

This number will surely rise if the port at Hodiedah is destroyed or closed by fighting.


Laurie Nowell

AMES Australia Senior Journalist