Millions in Yemen face one of the worst famines the world has seen in decades amid the Saudi-led coalition’s the battle for Hudaida. Here are more details
What’s happening in Hudaida?
On November 9, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and allied with local forces, launched an offensive in Yemen’s Hudaida as part of their latest push against Houthi rebels in country’s prolonged conflict.
By attacking Hudaida, the country’s fourth biggest city, the coalition aims to take control from the Iran-backed rebels, who began expanding their power in Yemen in 2015, a year after an uprising against the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The latest escalation intensified the fight, driving tens of thousands out of the area, while leaving the rest trapped in the city.
The UNHCR said an active front line currently cuts off the organisation’s warehouse, stocked with emergency shelter and aid items.
What is the significance of Hudaida?
The city was home to approximately 600,000 people, who have lived under the control of Houthi rebels since 2015. The rebels also control most of the northern part of Yemen and some ports in the western coast.
Located on the Red Sea coast, Hudaida is one of the most important cities in Yemen, and provided 80 percent of the country’s food imports and relief supplies before 2015.
Saudi Arabia has been imposing a partial blockade at the country’s borders since 2015. More than two years later, in November 2017, the Saudi blockade expanded to all ports, including Hudaida, putting millions of Yemenis in risk of “the worst famine in decades.”
The port city also includes an airport which the coalition failed to seize in a previous offensive in June this year. The coalition sees capturing Hudaida as a first step to recapturing the capital Sanaa from the rebels.
Why the fighting is feared to worsen the humanitarian crisis?
The country was already struggling with years of instability and almost half of Yemenis were living below the poverty line. In 2015, it faced a further humanitarian catastrophe as the Saudi-UAE coalition intervened in the country.
The crisis worsened when the main aid line was cut to Hudaida, sending millions of residents to the brink of famine and leaving them without medical aid to treat contagious diseases such as cholera.
The United Nations said in 2016 that 10,000 people had been killed in the fight so far. The organisation doesn’t have up-to-date data on the death toll but with civilians caught up in airstrikes and trapped by minefields and barrages of mortars millions more are thought to have been killed. The air strikes have also displaced millions over three years.
According to military sources, fighting to push Houthis out of the city reached residential streets on Sunday, creating concern for a rise in the civilian death toll. The first three days of the clashes resulted with the death of 149 Yemenis, including 110 Houthi fighters, 32 pro-government soldiers and seven civilians, the city’s medics said on Monday.
“As testament to how dire the situation is, some 445,000 people from al Hudaidah Governorate have been forced to flee since June, according to UN data,” UN refugee agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.
How did Saudi Arabia and UAE get involved in the conflict?
The conflict dates back to 2014, when tens of thousands Yemenis who had called on the government to resign took the streets of the capital, Sanaa, after a government decision to cut fuel subsidies.
Taking advantage of the unrest, the Houthis toppled President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi as they advanced to Sanaa from their stronghold Sadaa.
On March 25, Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition of nine Africana and Middle Eastern countries including the United Arab Emirates, intervened in the country after ousted Yemeni President Hadi’s call for support, while Iran continued to support the Houthi rebellion.
Despite bombing the country for three years, the Saudi-backed coalition couldn’t drive the Houthi rebels out.
The United States, which was supporting the Saudi-led air strikes in the country, recently announced a decision to stop refueling its jets. The decision came after Saudi Arabia confessed to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which drew attention to the country’s air campaign in Yemen.