Fighting in Yemen to cause widespread hunger and displacement

April 8, 2015 4:23 pm

The fighting in threatens to cause widespread hunger and thirst
and displace huge numbers of people, creating another humanitarian
disaster in a region already reeling from the crisis in Syria, according
to analysts and aid workers.
The impoverished Arabian Peninsula
nation of 25 million was struggling with alarming malnutrition levels
even before an offensive by Shiite Houthi rebels prompted a military
intervention last month by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Yemenis search for survivors in the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in a village near Sanaa. Photo / AP
Now,
the coalition’s air strikes, as well as the fighting at Yemen’s airports
and seaports, are impeding access to food and other supplies.
According
to the United Nations and humanitarian aid agencies, major urban
centres, including the southern city of Aden, which has a population of
about one million, may run out of drinking water.
The fighting
has displaced thousands of Yemenis, and a continuation of the unrest
could produce waves of refugees reminiscent of the flight of Syrians
from cities and towns engulfed in that country’s civil war, analysts and
aid workers say.

About four million people have poured out of Syria and six million more are internally displaced because of the fighting.
Looking
to exploit Yemen’s chaos are extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula and Isis (Islamic State), according to Fawaz A.
Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of
Economics.
“If Yemen descends into all-out war, which is a likely
scenario, we could witness a greater humanitarian crisis than that of
Syria, in terms of refugees and mass starvation,” he said. “You could
end up with al-Qaeda being the main winner after this conflict.”
The
Houthi rebels have seized vast tracts of Yemeni territory and in
February toppled the US-backed Government of President Abed Rabbo
Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition, which has conducted air attacks
against the Houthis and threatened a ground assault, hopes to restore
Hadi to power. The embattled President fled Yemen last month for Saudi
Arabia, which views the Houthis as proxies of Shiite Iran.
Sitara
Jabeen, a Geneva spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red
Cross, said that on Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition gave the
organisation permission to fly two planes to Yemen carrying aid workers
and 48 tonnes of medical supplies. But the Red Cross had not yet been
able to charter aircraft that would travel to the war-torn country, she
said.
Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United
States, said, “We are engaging with international relief organisations
to facilitate the provision of aid.” But he indicated that delivery of
supplies by plane was unlikely, because Saudi air strikes had destroyed
runways and “pretty much shut off Yemeni airports”.

An Iraqi Shiite militiaman. Photo / AP
An Iraqi Shiite militiaman. Photo / AP
The UN estimates more than 500 people have been
killed in the fighting in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, supplies of
food, fuel and water are dwindling, and government services such as
healthcare are deteriorating rapidly.
Julien Harneis, the Yemen
representative for Unicef, said shrinking supplies of fuel were
threatening the ability of towns to run ambulance services and of
hospitals to refrigerate vaccines.
In addition, the lack of
diesel fuel means pumps cannot draw well water for the chronically
parched country. For years, experts have warned that Sanaa could be the
first capital in the world to run out of water.
Already, intense fighting in Aden has stopped the pumps, depriving most of the city of drinking water.
The city also is struggling with prolonged power cuts.
Grant
Pritchard, Oxfam’s director in Yemen, expressed concern about “a
humanitarian disaster on our hands in the coming weeks and months” if
the fighting does not stop.
Most international aid workers have
left the country because of the danger, and their organisations have had
to scale back operations. Foreign businesses such as oil companies have
suspended work, while money from abroad – a crucial source of help for
millions of Yemenis – has stopped flowing.
The country’s meltdown
has left many of the nearly two million Yemenis working next door in
Saudi Arabia desperate to send cash but blocked by a breakdown in the
system of exchange used to transfer currency to Yemen.
Supermarket shelves are increasingly bare. According to some estimates, Yemen imports more than 90 per cent of its food.
Even
if food were arriving unimpeded from abroad, though, transporting it
inside Yemen had become increasingly difficult because of fighting and
air strikes, said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst.
That
had caused a spurt in prices of basic goods in rural areas by as much
as a third, a huge burden in a country where nearly half the population
lives on US$2 ($2.64) a day or less, Iryani said.
“If the situation deteriorates further, it will be a full-blown famine.”
This
has added to his concerns about a refugee crisis that could compel
masses of people to seek safety beyond Yemen’s borders. There are
unconfirmed reports that Yemenis have begun fleeing across the Gulf of
Aden to Somalia.

Yemen

25m population
16m rely on aid
10m do not get enough food
13m lack access to clean water

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