Conditions for more than half a million people in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah are steadily deteriorating, with food in short supply and seriously damaged water and sewage systems increasing the risk of cholera, Oxfam said today.
More than 80,000 people have fled their homes, despite a recent reduction in the intensity of the fighting. Meanwhile, in the city, troops are being deployed, trenches are being dug and barricades erected. From the air the city outskirts are being bombed and leaflets are being dropped calling for insurrection.
Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen Muhsin Siddiquey said Oxfam was calling on the UN Security Council, due to discuss the crisis today, not to allow Hodeidah to become a graveyard and to exert maximum diplomatic pressure on the warring parties to agree an immediate ceasefire and return to peace talks.
“The fate of 600,000 people hangs in the balance. Slowly but surely the city is being squeezed and the real fear is that this is merely a precursor to an onslaught that will lead to widespread loss of life,” Mr Siddiquey said.
“Hodeidah cannot be allowed to become a graveyard. There is still time to stop this destruction. One of our biggest fears is an outbreak of cholera. Hodeidah was a cholera hot-spot last year and a repeat would be devastating for the people there.
“The backers of this war – including those in Western capitals – need to stop fuelling the conflict and put maximum pressure on all sides of this war to agree an immediate ceasefire. Failure to act now will leave them culpable.”
The city’s streets are empty and many shops, bakeries and markets have closed, according to Oxfam contacts in the city. People have been panic buying, while food is scarce. Essential items such as flour – the main staple – vegetable oil and cooking gas are in short supply and prices have increased drastically.
Hodeidah Governorate is one of the regions of Yemen worst affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of children suffering from malnutrition. Last year it was just one step away from famine, with nearly 800,000 people suffering from severe hunger. The situation remains desperate.
Water is also in short supply. Parts of the city’s water supply and sewage system have been cut due to the digging of defensive positions. This increases the risk of cholera as people are forced to start using unprotected shallow wells or surface water. Hodeidah was hit hard by last year’s cholera outbreak, which was the world’s largest since records began, with more than one million cases recorded.
At least 35,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to the fighting around the southern outskirts of Hodeidah. They have settled in parts of the city further away from the fighting and many have sheltered in schools. Getting aid into the city is already challenging and will be increasingly difficult if fighting intensifies.
Some 46,000 people have managed to flee the city but escape is perilous with the threat of bombing, fighting and landmines. The city’s poor cannot afford the high cost of leaving the city.
Oxfam is helping 10,000 people who have fled north of the city, but even helping those outside the city is also proving difficult due to the ongoing conflict.
Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Advocacy Manager, Kelly Dent, said the port of Hodeidah was key to providing the bulk of all the food imported into the country and the majority of its medicines. If this vital life line were cut for a significant amount of time, the lives of more than 8 million people who are already on the verge of starvation would be further put in jeopardy.
“The Australian Government’s grant of $3 million of humanitarian funding in April was a welcome start to the year. This takes its total contribution to $23 million since April 2017,” she said.
“Oxfam is calling on the Australian Government to continue to closely monitor the crisis, be prepared to commit additional funding and continue to use diplomatic channels to push for peace and humanitarian access.”
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Notes to editors:
Footage available of a family who has been forced to flee their home: https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=35696&k=602db5cef0