For the first time since the outbreak of the war in Yemen in 2015, the United Nations World Food Program has reported that it has gained access to the Northern district of Nihm, where residents have increasingly suffered from severe hunger, outbreaks of cholera, and aerial bombardment.
The frontline district controlled by the Houthi rebels has been under siege by the opposing Saudi-backed government coalition, making it inaccessible to humanitarian groups until recently.
WFP Spokesperson Herve Verhoosel told reporters that the organization was able to successfully distribute food and other aid to more than 5,000 people in Nihm on May 30, marking an important breakthrough in the agency’s operations in the area.
Verhoosel said WFP and a local partner, Islamic Relief, conducted a one-time distribution that should provide recipients with adequate nutrition for about two months.
Yemen – one of the poorest countries in the region – is the site to what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of children under the age of five have died of malnutrition since the outset of the war, while thousands more civilians have been killed by airstrikes, cholera, and other diseases.
In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, intervened in an attempt to oust the Houthis, backed to a limited extent by Iran, and restore the Kingdom’s preferred government to power in the capital city of Sanaa.
In November, Abeer Etefa, the Senior Spokeswoman for WFP, told The Globe Post that if the war continued for much longer, Yemen would “become a country of living ghosts.”
“The Yemeni people are dignified, resilient, patient, but I think they are losing hope,” she warned.
1. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. Wardah Fadel 2.1 kg 4 months. Wardah's parents, resident in Hodeidah, came to Sanaa to hospitalize her. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
2. Yemen, midway Sana'a to Hodeidah, 13 November 2018. WFP Executive Director David Beasley visiting Yemen. Here he is having a tea in the mountains midway Sana'a to Hodeidah. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
3. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. WFP provides plumpy sup and supercereal to treat moderate acute malnutrition at the Al Sabeen maternal hospital. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
4. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. Al Sabeen maternal hospital. Hesham Ali Abdullah (left) and his son Ali Yakya Ali (5) who is affected by severe acute malnutrition edematous which causes an excessive amount of water fluid in the tissues. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
5. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. Yemeni children waiting for screening at the Al Sabeen maternal hospital where WFP provides plumpy sup and supercereal to treat moderate acute malnutrition. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
6. Yemen, Sana'a, 10 November 2018. A kid in old city Sanaa. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
Since the beginning of 2019, WFP has been able to expand its operations to reach an additional three million Yemenis.
While the agency is currently servicing about 10 million people per month, Verhoosel said his colleagues are hoping to extend services to two million more in the coming months.
“We are not there yet for the moment because of those distribution issues that we have,” Verhoosel said, adding that WFP is committed to “working with both sides to try to facilitate as much as possible not only the security situation but also of course the access.”
The U.N. agency was also able to provide aid for the first time to residents in the city of Dhuraimi in Hodeida province, which has also seen intense fighting throughout much of the war. In addition to food, WFP provided civilians with water, hygiene materials, and “dignity kits.”
The future of key grain silos located in Hodeida that came under fire in May is not yet clear, WFP reported. The grain stocks are capable of feeding more than three million people for a month, but WFP officials fear that much of it may have been contaminated and they have not yet been able to determine how much remains fit to eat.
In spite of the humanitarian crisis, Yemen has continued to serve as part of a popular but dangerous migration route for refugees from East Africa, many of whom ultimately hope to reach Saudi Arabia.
But as conditions there continue to deteriorate, the U.N.’s refugee agency reported last week that more than 4,000 refugees from Somalia were forced to return to Africa across the Gulf of Aden.
Those who returned include young Somalis who had been born in Yemen to refugee parents and others who fled Somalia hoping to escape conflict, poverty, and insecurity.
In May, the U.N.’s migration agency reported that at least eight African migrants died in makeshift camps in Yemen, warning thousands more were living under “inhumane conditions.”