United Nations aid agencies are ramping up humanitarian operations in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida as fighting between government and rebel forces for control of the port heats up putting hundreds of thousands of civilian lives at risk.
Conditions have seriously deteriorated since government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition began the battle to wrest control of the rebel Houthi-held Port of Hodeida one week ago.
The United Nations considers Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It has been trying to broker a truce between the warring parties with no success.
A spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke says aid agencies are deeply worried about the civilians caught in the middle of this conflict. He notes even before the fighting began, conditions in Hodeida were some of the worst in the country.
“Twenty-five percent of children in Hodeida are suffering from acute malnutrition. If malnutritional support from humanitarian partners is disrupted, it risks the lives of almost 100,000 children," said Laerke. "Hodeida was also one of the epicenters of last year’s cholera outbreak, one of the worst in modern history.”
Last year, cholera cases in Yemen topped 1 million in the world’s worst outbreak of the disease. A World Health Organization spokesman, Christian Lindemeier, tells VOA concerns are growing over a possible resurgence of this fatal disease.
“Monday, a major water pump was hit, leaving 10,000 households without water supplies and with increased risk to water borne diseases," he said. "So, there is a fear that the situation might fuel another wave of cholera.”
Lindemeier says there are plans to vaccinate more than 800,000 people in Hodeida with oral cholera vaccination.
The port of Hodeida is a vital lifeline for people throughout Yemen. It imports crucial humanitarian relief supplies and is the main entry point for commercial goods, including fuel, food, and medicines. Putting this vital port out of commission would have dire humanitarian consequences.
The World Food Program reports so far it has been able to provide food to Yemen on a non-stop basis. This week, it reports it imported enough food for 6 million people for one month.
WFP spokeswoman, Bettina Luescher, warns the situation for millions of people would become life-threatening if the port were no longer operational.
“We are basically keeping the people of Yemen alive," said Luescher. "Without the humanitarians, all of the humanitarian partners, the people of Yemen would die if the humanitarians were not on the ground. So, we have been bringing food into Hodeida. We are channeling it into other areas and we are always talking with all sides to make sure that humanitarian aid is going in.”
Another casualty of the war is the suspension of migrant returns from Yemen. The International Organization for Migration reports it has been forced to postpone its operation to help migrants stranded in Hodeida return home because of the fighting.
Last year, the agency repatriated 2,860 migrants from Yemen—746 through Hodeida port. The majority were Ethiopian migrants. Others included migrants from Sri Lanka, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. So far, this year, IOM has assisted more than 430 migrant returns.