The Saudi-led coalition with American backing continues to blockade Yemen, worsening a humanitarian crises that threatens the lives of millions of people.
TAIZ, Yemen— As the Saudi-led coalition closed down all ports to Yemen in recent days, it has brought home the impact of the war to even those Yemenis who had previously been untouched.
The price of food and fuel has leapt by more than 40 percent, virtually overnight.
A 50-kilogramme bag of wheat, less than two weeks ago, cost $24. By the end of last week, in some provinces, it had reached around $32. Similarly, petrol has experienced significant increases from around $16 reaching a high of $32 in the northern provinces. Diesel, necessary for running power plants, has reached similar heights.
The Saudi-led coalition closed all air, land and sea ports to Yemen to stem the flow of arms to Houthi rebels from Iran on Monday morning last week. The move followed the interception of a missile fired towards Riyadh on Saturday, November 4. The coalition described the missile as a "dangerous escalation" by the Iran-allied Houthi militia, which controls large parts of Yemen.
On Wednesday of last week, the coalition removed the blockade, but only for the port of Aden, currently under the control of Saudi-led forces and the government. All other air, land and sea ports are still under blockade, so the prices are set to rise even further.
Since then the Saudi-led coalition reopened ports in the government areas but not to reopen the seaport of Al Hodeida, which is the main seaport in the Houthi areas.
People are frightened about what that might lead to.
Ahmed Saeed Shamsan, a 35-year-old father of three children, worked for years as a bus driver in Taiz city, earning $8 a day. This has always been enough to feed his family. After the most recent renewed blockade he was forced to stop working, no longer able afford the diesel for his bus.
"I used to buy 20 litres of diesel for $17. After Monday it was doubled, increasing to $32. We doubled the price of tickets but people refuse to pay more than usual" Shamsan told TRT World.
"So instead I had to stop driving my bus until the price of diesel returns to normal."
Shamsan was an engineer in the Electricity Corporation in Taiz but as the conflict in Yemen has worsened he hasn’t received any money for the last year. Having bought the bus only six months ago he’s now looking for more reliable employment.
Many Yemenis are trying to stock up on basic commodities fearing further deterioration in the coming weeks. Shamsan is one of those people.
"I went to buy some basic commodities to save food for my children, but I found that prices were increasing by half and people were rushing to buy everything,” he said. “I bought as much as I could too because it seems like it 's going to get even harder in the future."
Starving to death
Shamsan still has a bus that he can sell if things get really desperate for his family, but many Yemenis are not that privileged. If humanitarian organisations do not urgently step in many Yemenis will starve to death with no access to food.
Annan al Tubail, 39, works as a shoe polisher. Even before the jump in food prices he struggled to put food on the table for his family, depending on organisations and philanthropists for support.
"Many people are buying food nowadays to store for difficult days but needy people like me don’t have enough money to buy expensive food. We can only wait for organisations and philanthropists to help, otherwise we may starve to death," Tubail told TRT World.
Some 20.7 million people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian assistance or protection, with some 9.8 million in acute need of assistance. An estimated 17 million people – 60 percent of the total population – suffers from a lack of food, while a staggering 7 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from and are at risk of famine, according to UNOCHA.
Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said on Wednesday that unless the borders are reopened to aid shipments, "it will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims."
Lowcock told the council that UN humanitarian flights must be allowed to resume to the rebel-held capital of Sanaa and to the government-controlled city of Aden.
He added that there must be "immediate access to all sea ports" for deliveries of fuel, food and other vital supplies — as well as assurances from the coalition that there won’t be any further disruptions.
Tubail, an illiterate man, doesn’t know much about the blockade, but he knows very well that prices have increased.
"I don’t know why prices were increased in the last few days, but I pray to Allah to solve our problem and kill the killers of Yemenis," he said.
Opening Aden's port ‘not the solution’
Walid Abdul Malik, a trader in the area of Hawban, north of Taiz city, under the control of Houthi rebels, confirmed that they import goods via Al Hodeida port. Even if Aden's port was reopened, he stressed, it doesn’t mean they can import commodities easily.
"If we import via the port of Aden, the southern resistance won’t allow us to transport commodities from Aden to Al Hawban because we live in areas under the control of the Houthis," Abdul Malik said.
"The Saudi-led coalition wants to tighten the blockade on civilians in the northern areas, but this is not a humanitarian step. Civilians will be the main victims of this blockade."
On Monday, the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) based in Djibouti informed all commercial ships docking in Yemen's Red Sea port cities of Hodeida and Saleef to leave the ports immediately “to ensure safety of crew, vessel and cargo.”
The UN agency also said it had suspended issuing new clearances for all ships heading to Yemen citing the measures as “temporary” until further notice.
"Much of the humanitarian aid comes through Al Hodeida sea port and this blockade will deprive many people of aid" added the trader from Taiz Abdul Malik.
On Tuesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for Yemen's air, sea and land borders to be kept open to allow vital humanitarian supplies to enter the country.
"Humanitarian supply lines to Yemen must remain open," said ICRC's regional director for the Near and Middle East, Robert Mardini. "Food, medicine and other essential supplies are critical for the survival of 27 million Yemenis already weakened by a conflict now in its third year."
A Red Cross shipment of chlorine tablets, which are used for the prevention of cholera, failed to receive clearance at Yemen’s northern border. Medical supplies, including 50,000 vials of insulin, are expected by next week.
"Insulin cannot wait at a shuttered border since it must be kept refrigerated. Without a quick solution to the closure, the humanitarian consequences will be dire," Mardini added.
The UN on Tuesday last week urged the Saudi-led coalition to end its total blockade of Yemen along its sea, air and land borders, which only recently prevented two humanitarian cargo planes from landing in the war-torn country.
A spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office OCHA, Jens Laerke, told reporters in Geneva, "if these channels, these lifelines, are not kept open, it’s catastrophic for people who are already in what we have already called the world's worst humanitarian crisis."
"Fuel, food and medicine imports must continue to enter the country. This is an access problem of colossal dimensions."
Houthis accuse Saudi of war crimes
Abu al Abdali, the press secretary of the deputy prime minister in Sanaa, outlined his fears, "the tightening of the Saudi blockade of Yemen by the coalition of aggression [Saudi-led coalition] is a new way to kill Yemenis.
"The Saudis kill Yemenis under direct support of the United States of America, which provides Saudi Arabia with all methods of destructions and political support, either inside the Security Council and the United Nations or outside, to kill Yemenis."
The Saudi-led coalition closed Sanaa airport in August 2016 as a punishment aimed at the Houthi rebels. The impact of this one act has been immense on the families of Yemen. According to the Health Ministry around 1,000 medical patients died as a result of the closure, leaving them unable to fly out to receive the necessary treatment.
Some 15 aid groups came out with a joint statement on August 9, saying the official closure of Sanaa Airport effectively traps millions of Yemenis and serves to prevent the free movement of commercial and humanitarian goods.
"The Yemeni ministry of health estimates that 10,000 Yemenis have died from critical health conditions for which they were seeking international medical treatment but were unable to do so due to the airport closure," the statement read.
In December, the UN estimated that the closure of Sanaa Airport had prevented an estimated 20,000 people from accessing life-saving healthcare abroad.
"These unfair procedures by the Saudis and their allies make the Saudi leaders liable to stand trial for war crimes and crimes of genocide by the prevention of food and medicines to arrive to Yemenis who live under the Saudi blockade," Abdali added. Though, there are currently no proceedings to prosecute any Saudi leaders for war crimes or genocide.
Until Saudi Arabia is pressed to abide by human rights law and its obligations based on international charters and conventions the conflict in Yemen is set to worsen. And the people of Yemen fated to suffer further.