Monday, June 11, 2018

Heading towards catastrophe in Yemen

Urgent efforts at the UN were under way to dissuade the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis from pressing ahead with the attack – or at least to give undertakings that it will not seek to starve Hodeidah into submission. Aid agencies have warned that an attack would have catastrophic consequences. They are bracing themselves for an expected massive assault by Saudi-led coalition forces that they warn could endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The UN warned last week that worse-case scenario planning for what has been dubbed “Yemen’s Aleppo” anticipates up to 250,000 of Hodeidah’s 600,000 population could die in the fighting, particularly if a siege situation develops.  

The UN security council met behind closed doors to be briefed on the situation after heavy fighting erupted near the city on Friday and Saturday. The UAE has vowed it will take the port. The UN’s Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, was shuttling between the capital of Yemen Sanaa and also the UAE and Saudi Arabia. One proposal is for the UN to take control of the port or the city. The UN has warned the Saudi-led coalition that a military attack or siege on the city, long a target in the war, could lead to the displacement of 250,000 people.

UN’s secretary general, António Guterres, told reporters. “I hope that it will be possible to avoid a battle for Hodeidah.”

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told reporters that “if for any period Hodeidah were not to operate effectively the consequences in humanitarian terms would be catastrophic”.

“The situation in Hodeidah is already devastating. An attack on the port would have dire, immediate humanitarian consequences,” Salem Jaffer Baobaid, Islamic Relief’s deputy country manager based in the port city, said in a statement. “People are already literally dying of starvation. The port is the lifeline to much-needed supplies of food and other life-saving resources and any attack would jeopardise the ability of this country to feed itself. We should make no mistake, if the port is out of action, Yemeni citizens will die.”

“This is a man-made crisis and only a political solution can end this needless suffering,” Abdi Mohamud, Mercy Corps’ Yemen country director, told The Independent.  “Hodeidah is one of the only barriers keeping famine from Yemen’s door. If this critical lifeline is lost, it could trigger a humanitarian crisis the likes of which has not been seen in decades.

But there was little sign that either the British or the Americans were willing to announce a halt to arms sales to Saudi or any other similar mark of disapproval of the Saudi assault. There is less and less US appetite to stand in the way of Saudi and UAE military policy in the devastating conflict. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo did not call for the attack not to go ahead.

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