Conditions for over 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, while preparations continue for a bloody onslaught. 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 is calling on the UN Security Council, which will 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.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam's Country Director in Yemen said: “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.
“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. Prices have increased with a sack of rice up 350 per cent, wheat up 50 per cent and cooking oil up by 40 per cent. At the same time, many families’ incomes have been hit by the closure of dozens of factories and businesses.
Hodeidah Governorate is one of the worst affected areas of Yemen with a quarter of children suffering from malnutrition. Last year it was just one step away from famine, with nearly 800,000 suffering from severe hunger and the situation remains desperate.
Water is in short supply. Parts of the city’s water supply and sewage system have been cut due to the digging of defensive positions. This raises the threat 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.
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. It can cost 60,000 riyals (£115) to take a family out of the city to the relative safety of the capital Sana’a. Even if they could afford the travel costs they would then have to pay at least 200,000 riyals (£380) for rent and food a month.
Oxfam is helping 10,000 people who have fled north of the city but helping those outside the city is also proving difficult due to the ongoing conflict.
The port of Hodeidah is key to providing the bulk of all the food imported into the country and the majority of its medicines. If this vital life line is cut for a significant amount of time then the lives of more than 8 million people who are already on the verge of starvation will be further put in jeopardy.