THE recapture of Aden airport and most districts of the south of the city from Houthi rebels and elements of the Yemeni army fighting with them has enabled humanitarian supplies for the country to be brought in by air and sea. But the quantities thus far are inadequate to meet all the needs even in that part of the country.
Millions of civilians are still trapped in central and northern areas by ground fighting, and endangered by air attacks from Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf allies.
Three ships chartered by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) have docked in Aden, and the distribution of food to about 340,000 people in eight of the worst-affected areas of the city is under way.
The WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Muhannad Hadi, said: “We are challenging the odds to reach tens of thousands of people who would go hungry without food assistance. We are working to overcome insecurity, checkpoints, and many other hurdles in Yemen to reach desperate families unable to feed their children.”
The ships that have arrived so far have contained enough food to provide emergency assistance for about 400,000 people for a month. WFP partners are distributing two-month food rations — including wheat flour, pulses, and cooking oil — in a number of districts that had not been reached since April because of the conflict. In July, almost 700,000 people received emergency food assistance from the WFP.
In a statement, the WFP said that “even before the war broke out, Yemen imported almost 90 per cent of its basic food from abroad. The impact of traders being unable to import enough food and safely move it inside the country has led to a severe spike in prices, which is increasing the suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable.” Many road networks in and around Aden are now either inaccessible or very difficult to reach because of infrastructure damage and fighting.
Helen Lackner, a consultant on rural development who lived in Yemen for 15 years, said in an article for the Open Democracy website that the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is difficult to communicate to the world at large:
“Senior UN officials are exhausting the diplomatic vocabulary for disastrous situations, trying to find words which might on the one hand influence the fighting groups to respect international humanitarian law, and on the other, persuade the international community to finance urgently needed basic assistance.”
It is now estimated, Ms Lackner says, that 80 per cent of the country’s population — which means more than 21 million people — are in need of assistance: “Despite this frightening fact, the UN is only targeting just over half that number; there are officially close to 1.3 million displaced people, but the real figure is likely to be much higher.”
Ms Lackner is urging people “to contribute financially or in any other way to alleviating the situation”.
The reopening of Aden airport has enabled Saudi Arabia and its allies to fly in military supplies to reinforce army units loyal to the Yemeni government and their tribal allies, as they try to retake more territory captured by the Houthis.
The Gulf States are also providing training for pro-government forces, and, at the weekend, the United Arab Emirates sent a military brigade to Aden to join the fight. But an early end to the war seems unlikely, in the absence of the willingness of the two sides to meet at the negotiating table.