Thousands of Yemen’s poorest people have no means to leave the city of Hodeidah, a major maritime port at the center of the humanitarian crisis in the warring country, according to a spokesperson from Oxfam.
The United Nations considers the humanitarian crisis in Yemen the worst in the world, and the closing of Hodeidah is exacerbating it as the port processes about 70 percent of the entire food imports into the country.
On June 13, forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, along with their allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive against Hodeidah, which has been controlled by the Houthi rebels since 2014, when they drove the government out of the capital Sanaa and much of the country.
The Saudi-led coalition, which has been waging war against rebels since early 2015, claims that the Houthis are using Hodeidah for weapons delivery, an allegation rejected by the fighters.
Hodeidah, which numbers in population about 600,000, has shut down. The Oxfam spokesperson told The Globe Post that the city, tottering from being bombed and having storefronts closed, is a trap for the most poor and vulnerable, those unable to purchase food or even beg for their needs.
According to Oxfam, some 80,000 people have managed to leave Hodeidah, but relocation costs are too high for the city’s poor.
Taking a family out of the city to the capital Sana’a can cost 60,000 riyals (about $200). In addition to the travel costs, people have to pay at least 200,000 riyals ($500) for rent and food a month.
In Yemen, shelter is scarce and is often available on a first-come, first-serve basis, causing many people to be internally displaced.
Many residents lost their homes due to bombings or military takeover. Others can no longer afford the inflated rent and have fled in search of any empty building to occupy with their families.
Nearly 90% of the 3 million displaced in #Yemen have spent over a year in settlements after their homes were destroyed, the very houses they spent their lives to build are now just memories. pic.twitter.com/OKyAb9xO5U
— Oxfam in MENA (@OxfamMENA) July 18, 2018
The spokesperson from Oxfam said those who can find refuge in the Hodeidah area are in “camps and public facilities such [as] schools which are often overcrowded and with poor conditions.” He noted that refugees are receiving “minimal assistance.”
While many fled to family member’s homes in neighboring areas, others who have tried to flee the city are having trouble due to high rent caused by the housing shortage in those regions.
At the same time, many families that try to flee must go through the war zone, which has lead to deaths from fleeing cars hitting land mines. Those that stay are at risk of sexual and physical violence.
According to the representative, people in Hodeidah, who were already poor before the current military escalation are now struggling to buy food. At the moment, Hodeidah is one of the worst-affected governorates in Yemen when it comes to food shortages and malnutrition.
Last year, it was one step away from famine, and it is still experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity. With most shops closed or only open for a few hours each day for fear of getting caught up in violence, many are going hungry.
Most Hodeidah residents have to buy their food daily, because of lack of savings and no ability to keep perishable food from going bad, the representative explained. Therefore, many are going hungry in the midst of these intermittent store closings and food shortages. This has also caused the price of basic goods to skyrocket to hyperinflation as basic items like gas and bread run out of stock in the fast-emptying city.
Another major source of need, and now disease, is water. A shortage of clean water has led to people needing to drink dirty tap water, causing a cholera outbreak in the region. Hodeidah was at the center of one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern history last year, according to Oxfam.
“The current conflict has resulted in the damage to water network and sewage system, cutting of many neighborhoods and homes from water supply for days on end, even forcing some families to move to other areas in search of water,” the spokesperson said.
Oxfam has said that without an immediate ceasefire and return to peace talks, Hodeidah may become a graveyard for thousands of people.