The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday warned of impending humanitarian disaster in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida, where fierce fighting is under way between loyalists and rebels.
“Seventy percent of food for Yemen comes through Hodeida, and three-quarters of the country’s 29 million people need humanitarian assistance,” ICRC Near and Middle East spokesperson Iolanda Jacquemet told swissinfo.ch. “So if it is cut off it will be disastrous.”
She said the ICRC is also concerned about Hodeida as a city of 600,000 people, since urban warfare tends to produce a much higher number of victims.
Other aid agencies also expressed fears on Friday that the military operation by pro-government forces to recapture Hodeida from rebels could interrupt aid supplies, exacerbating a humanitarian situation which is “already the worst in the world”, according to the UN.
The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, arrived in the capital, Sanaa, on Saturday. The United Nations, which failed to find a diplomatic solution to head off
the assault, fears the fighting will cut off the only lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation.
The ICRC expressed its concerns about Hodeida in a news releaseexternal link on July 13.
Threats to aid workers
Jacquemet also confirmed that the Swiss NGO, which pulled 71 of its international staff out of Yemenexternal link including Hodeida last week, had received “specific threats as the ICRC”.
Asked where these threats were coming from, she said “we don’t know but we have dialogue with everyone, trying to get credible guarantees. The aim is to go back, especially given the needs, but we have a duty of care to staff.”
She stressed, however, that the ICRC still has local staff in Yemen and has pre-positioned food, medical supplies, water purification systems and sanitation supplies in Hodeida, which can be distributed in cooperation with the Yemeni Red Crescent if the security situation allows.
The war in Yemen, which has been raging for more than three years, has left nearly 10,000 people dead. The battle for Hodeida is seen as the most important since 2015, when an offensive by pro-government forces allowed them to take back several southern regions, including Aden, from the rebels.