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Yemen still starved of food and fuel despite month-long suspension of blockade

By Oxfam
Khulood lived with her grandmother and father in Haradh area, which was subjected to heavy aerial bombardment that destroyed many facilities in the area. With acute diarrhoea and lack of health centers, the grandmother travelled to Sana’a capital two days after Khullod fell ill. Khulood received treatment for four consecutive days in Al-Saba’een hospital. The grandmother said that cholera is spreading widely in the area because of the not so good financial status of the citizens; it is difficult for them to travel to the capital for treatment. Khulood’s Grandmother said that several people from her neighbors have lost their lives due to cholera. Photo: Gabreez

Despite last month’s temporary lifting of the Saudi led-coalition blockade of Yemen’s northern ports, in the past three and a half weeks only 18 percent of the country’s monthly fuel needs and just over half its monthly food needs have been imported through these ports. 

Yemen’s ports provide most of the goods the country needs to import, with 80 percent of all goods coming through Hodeida, one of the northern ports. Ninety percent of the country’s food has to be imported. The arrival of much-needed new cranes in Hodeida is very welcome and crucial to speeding up supplies through the port. But the continued restrictions of vital supplies further endanger the 8.4 million people living on the brink of famine. 

Oxfam warned of a catastrophic deterioration in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the site of the largest cholera outbreak on record. The lives of 22 million people in need of aid will continue to deteriorate if there is not a significant rise in the imports of the vital food, fuel, and medicine. On January 19th the blockade will have been lifted for a month and Oxfam is calling for all ports to remain open to the uninterrupted flow of commercial and humanitarian goods. 

"Despite a month-long suspension of the blockade, millions of Yemenis are still starved of food. The U.S. must act now to prevent even further deterioration of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” said Scott Paul, Oxfam America Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor. “US efforts over the past month have helped facilitate critical aid and goods into Yemen, but more must urgently be done. The US should immediately end its support for the coalition and use its leverage to push all parties toward peace and full, unfettered humanitarian and commercial access.”

While the blockade has been temporarily lifted, 190,000 tons of food arrived at the main northern ports between December 20th and January 15th, compared with the estimated monthly food needs of 350,000 tons, according to the UN, shipping agencies and port authorities. Fuel imports over the same period were 97,000 tons compared to an estimated monthly fuel need of 544,000 tons. 

Fuel tankers and bulk cargo vessels of grain have docked but no container vessels have arrived, meaning that foods essential for survival, such as cooking oil, have not entered the ports for some time.

Last month the price of imported cooking oil went up by 61 percent in Al Baidha, 130 miles south east of the capital Sana’a. The price of wheat rose by 10 percent across the country over the same period. Food prices have been rising since the conflict started. In Hodeida in the west of the country, the price of barley is three times higher than it was before the conflict, maize is up nearly 140 percent in Hadramout over the same period, and the price of sorghum has doubled in Taiz. 

Due to the fuel shortages and uncertainty of imports, one of Yemen’s major food companies has reduced its grain milling operations and another is struggling with milling and distributing food inside the country. Companies face arbitrary restrictions by parties to the conflict when moving food around the country. 

The food and fuel import crisis is exacerbated by a collapse in the country’s currency which has seen a dramatic drop in the exchange rate from 250 rials per US dollar to 500 in recent weeks. This will put more pressure on prices and hit the poorest and the families of the estimated 1.24 million civilian servants who have not received, or only occasionally received, a salary since August 2016. 

Oxfam said that not only should the blockade be permanently lifted but there should also be an end to unnecessary restrictions on cargo ships coming into port. It called for an immediate ceasefire, an end to arms sales that have been fueling the conflict, and called on backers of the war to use their influence to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.