Yemen: Civilians panic as situation worsens
In Yemen, amidst the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, we provide life-saving aid to thousands of civilians. In June, the Saudi-led Coalition announced its intention to take control of the port city Hodeidah through military action.
Why is Hodeidah so vital? Read more about the crisis here.
As fighting has continued near Hodeidah, the site of Yemen’s most important port, over 33,000 families have been displaced from the governate since 1 June, according to the UN. Still, most people remain unwilling or unable to leave behind their homes and everything they own.
“People in Hodeidah are still living in limbo, deciding whether to flee or to stay. This means leaving jobs, homes, friends and possessions, or remaining without any guarantee of safety,” says Suze van Meegen, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Protection and Advocacy Adviser in Yemen.
While a full-scale military advance has been paused during diplomatic talks, the conflict may escalate soon, van Meegen stresses.
The conflict in Yemen
Since 2004, there has been fighting between the internationally-recognised government and members of the Ansar Allah group, also known as the Houthi movement.
In September 2014, members of Ansar Allah and troops loyal to deposed President Saleh swept in and took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana'a.
In March 2015, a group of several regional countries called “The Coalition”, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the US and other Western countries, went to war on members of Ansar Allah. Since then, the situation has deteriorated.
Hodeidah is the site of Yemen’s most important port. Over 80 per cent of food is imported into Yemen, and Hodeidah port handles about 70 per cent of all imports into the country. Significant damage to the port infrastructure early in the conflict has already pushed the country to the brink of famine.
On 13 June, the Saudi-led Coalition announced its intention to take control of Hodeidah through military action.
Many will be forced to flee again
Ongoing violence has forced many to flee for their life several times. Many don’t know when they will be able to return home.
“Yesterday, we found newly displaced people in neighbouring Hajjah governate with nothing but clothing rags for shelter, literally living under trees to keep away from the scorching heat, sun and sandstorms,” says Hussein Qais, who works in the area of livelihoods and food security.
“Many have been displaced three times. While I was meeting with families in Abs district, I heard the non-stop tremors and reverberations of missiles,” he adds. People remain in constant fear of the conflict closing in and displacing them yet again.
Yemeni aid workers are helping Yemeni people in need, while players outside Yemen decide what will happen next.
Restrictions on movement and widespread violence have made it difficult to reach out to people who need lifesaving assistance, and NRC’s staff on the ground are deeply concerned about their families and friends.
“Our teams are not immune to violence. They are frightened for the safety of their families and distressed by the scale of desperate need that they are seeing in Hodeidah, but they keep turning up to work,” says van Meegen.
Hundreds of thousands in need of aid
People in Hodeidah are in desperate need of food, water, medicine and other lifesaving necessities. We are currently supporting people with cash grants so that every family can meet their most pressing needs. “We have been registering displaced people and provided them with food, cash, shelter and hygiene items as quickly as we can,” explains Ali Aljhajori, who leads our emergency efforts in Hodeidah.
Meanwhile, temperatures are climbing up to 40 degrees in the port city, where the water supply has been disrupted in several areas. Many people are relying on water from mosque wells, and the risk of contamination is high. There have been 162,000 suspected cases of cholera since April 2017.
Our teams are now working around the clock to restart activities responding to the cholera outbreak in Hodeidah, after local authorities suspended these activities for security reasons.
As a key humanitarian actor in the country, we advocate for a ceasefire and an end to restrictions on humanitarian access.
We are extremely worried about the people that have fled their homes. Ali Aljhajori
While the threat of fighting pushes people from their homes and prevents them from working, tens of thousands have lost their regular income. Without money to cover basic costs, and rising prices for goods caused by shortages due to the unrest, civilians who could otherwise survive are left without food and other necessities. This comes on top of the constant threat of a reduction in imports if the port is affected by the fighting, which remains a very real concern as the safety of ships, and the goods they deliver, is put at risk by the conflict.
Our teams are urgently procuring, transporting and delivering lifesaving supplies. We are on standby to scale up if the situation worsens, while conducting assessments to identify the women, men and children in deepest need amongst the newly displaced. “The displaced families are panicking, because they are in locations without water, shelter and schools,” explains Ashraf Alshehari, our shelter officer in Yemen.
“If nothing is done now, people will face protection concerns long into the future,” Aljhajori adds.