Yemen has only enough food to sustain its population for two to three months, CARE International has warned, as fears rise that the country’s main port could close as a result of increased Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
If Hodeidah’s port is sealed off or put out of action, CARE’s Yemen Director Johan Mooij calculates that Yemen’s food supplies will last two to three months, taking into account the World Food Programme’s (WFP) stockpiles and estimated levels of commercial foods sourced from traders.
“Once the harbour is blocked we are talking about millions and millions of people who will not have food,” Mr Mooij told The Independent.
More than 8 million people are on the verge of famine in Yemen, in what the UN frequently describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Hodeidah’s port accounts for more than 70 per cent of all imports, offering a vital lifeline of food, fuel and medical supplies. Even before the war, 90 per cent of Yemen’s food was imported.
The city is currently held by Iran-backed Houthi rebels and has been subject to a coalition blockade for the past three years. The last time the port was completely sealed off in November 2017 a further 3.2 million people were pushed into hunger, the WFP estimates.
Coalition troops are currently trying to regain control of the city in what could be the largest battle of Yemen’s war to date. Heavy fighting is taking place on a 3km stretch of the main road to Yemen’s constitutional capital, Sanaa, which is impeding transport between the two cities.
Many organizations have warned that increased airstrikes on the port and escalating battles for control of major transport routes risk cutting off vital supplies to the rest of the country.
“Even the smallest disruption to food, fuel and aid supplies through its vital port could mean death for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children unable to get the food they need to stay alive,” said Save the Children’s Yemen Director Tamer Kirolos.
Save the Children predicted last week that soaring food and fuel prices – of as much as 45 per cent – could cause the number of Yemeni children facing starvation to rise to 5 million.
The report stated that any closure at Hodeidah “risks killing an entire generation.”
Mr Mooij said: “At a time when cholera cases are sharply on the rise, many thousands have already died from disease and hunger, and the Yemeni rial has lost almost a quarter of its value, this is absolutely the last thing the Yemeni people need. There must be an immediate end to this violence in and around Hodeidah.
Malnourishment means that children are 12 times more likely to die from diseases like cholera, pneumonia and measles and can cause long-term physical and cognitive damage.
Mr Mooij gives a tragic insight into how decreased supplies could affect the population, saying “the Yemeni tell me ‘we will all die together’. Because the Yemeni have a tradition of sharing, they will accommodate people who don’t have as much as they can, so once we reach the point of starvation it will be terrible.”
The increased airstrikes and fighting are also causing residents to flee Hodeidah. Mr Mooij believes that nearly 300,000 people have already left since 2015, halving the city’s population.
One 28-year-old parent said: “The sounds of the airstrikes are horrifying. We want to leave but the road to Sanaa is closed. I feel like I’m suffocating. My children keep crying and it is very hot and I don’t know what to do. I cried yesterday with my children. I feel helpless. I can’t do anything.”