In Yemen, Saudi blockade ratchets up fears of famine

People collecting water from a well located on the outskirts of Yemn Capital Sana’a that is allegedly contaminated with cholera bacteria.   | Photo Credit: Hani Mohammed

A toddler writhed in pain on a hospital bed in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, a tube running through her nose, her eyes swelled shut and lashes wet with tears.

In the hallway outside, doctor Mohammed al-Ayzari was alert, but his face looked worn from apparent exhaustion. “The malnutrition cases are up more than ever before,” he said. “There is an acute shortage of medical supplies and laboratory materials.”

Seven million at risk

After years of war that has seen a Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels impose a blockade on the country, the UN has already warned that seven million people in Yemen are on the verge of starvation.

But now a decision by Riyadh and its allies to tighten the screws on all land, sea and air borders in response to a Houthi missile attack has sent prices spiralling further — and ratcheted up fears of a looming famine.

Prices have soared in Sana’a since the Saudi-led coalition upped the pressure on Yemen a week ago, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says. The cost of fuel has gone up by nearly two-thirds, the price of trucked water has increased by 133% and bus fares have doubled or even tripled.

Cars could still be seen on the roads around the rebel-held city, but many stations were cordoned off with plastic ribbon.

On a corner where street vendors were selling cheap household items, neatly dressed government employee Amer Ali echoed the despair. “The higher price of fuel is making the food prices go way up,” he said. “The average person can’t survive.”

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s conflict in March 2015 with the stated aim of rolling back the Iran-backed Houthis and restoring the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to power. More than two and a half years later, thousands have died in the conflict and the rebels still control Sana’a and much of northern Yemen.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has told the Security Council that unless the Saudi-led blockade is lifted, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”.

Tougher checks

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN Abdallah al-Mouallimi on Monday sought to allay concerns over the latest move, noting ports in Yemen’s government-controlled areas were being reopened. But Riyadh is insisting that there must be tougher checks at rebel-held ports before they can open — a demand the UN contends is proving catastrophic.

Aid officials point out that Yemen’s government-held bastion of Aden lacks the capacity to ensure a steady flow of distribution to the millions who depend on it. Rebel-held Hodeida port, on the other hand, is closest to the majority of people in need.

The UN’s aid coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, maintained on Tuesday that keeping ports closed is unacceptable and that the Saudi-led coalition could use current inspection mechanisms to let them work. ”We can’t have those ports closed or those airports closed while we wait for discussions on new (inspection) mandates to go ahead,” he said.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 8:47:25 AM |

Next Story