Yemen: Famine has arrived and Saudi ships blocking fuel aren’t helping

CNN saw overstretched medical professionals and nurses as they attempted to offer oxygen to Hassan, who had actually gotten here 6 days previously however wasn’t placing on any weight, and was having a hard time to breathe. Simply hours later on, Hassan passed away.

“He is just one of many cases,” stated Dr. Osman Salah. The ward has plenty of kids experiencing poor nutrition, consisting of children simply weeks old.

Monthly, this healthcare facility’s pediatric ward takes in more clients than its capability of 50, in some cases two times as lots of. Around 12 kids pass away there monthly, Salah stated. He and his personnel are operating on empty — they have not been spent for over half a year.

An approximated 47,000 individuals are most likely to be living with “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity — or famine-like conditions — according to an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Stage Category (IPC), the world’s authority on food security. An additional 16 million are residing in either “crisis” or “emergency” food security conditions, the analysis reveals. That’s over half of Yemen’s population.

The quickly weakening scenario is the outcome primarily of moneying cuts that have actually damaged activities by companies like the World Food Program, which is having a hard time now to satisfy one of the most standard of requirements for countless Yemenis, especially in the nation’s north.

However it has actually likewise been worsened by an installing fuel crisis. Personnel at the healthcare facility in Abs, where child Hassan lost his life, state they will need to shut in less than 3 weeks if they do not get more financing and fuel to keep their generators going. It’s the exact same story all over the north.

“If fuel were easily available on the market, the number of cases we are seeing in the hospital would be much higher, because at the moment, there are patients who are staying at home, because of the challenges and expenses of traveling to the hospital,” Dr. Salah stated.

As an outcome, stated Dr. Salah, kids are just passing away in their houses.

A bitter blockade

Fuel usually enters the nation’s north by means of the port of Hodeidah, normally busy with financial activity at the very best of times. Even throughout Yemen’s continuous civil war, it has actually been a dynamic entrance for the dispute economy, where food and other help that Yemenis depend on get here.

However the port is now a ghost town. Numerous food help trucks sit parked in a line going for miles along a dirty roadway. A spacious tank that normally saves some 2,500 metric lots of oil sits empty at the port. It lets go an echoey clang with the softest touch.

Trucks lined up on a road outside Hodeidah, fully laden but with no fuel to leave.

Saudi warships have actually not enabled any oil tankers to berth at Hodeidah because the start of the year, the Houthis state, an assertion backed by the World Food Program. The practice is starving the north of much-needed fuel. Considering that 2015, Saudi Arabia has actually been militarily supporting the worldwide acknowledged Yemeni federal government, which is now running in exile from Riyadh.

The Saudi vessels that patrol the waters of Hodeidah have control over which industrial ships can dock and dump their freight. Some products are surviving — CNN saw help being packed on to trucks at the port after being provided by ship — however not any fuel to provide them.

CNN acquired files from the port’s arrival log revealing that 14 vessels had actually been cleared by the UN’s confirmation and assessment body to bring fuel to the nation. The tracking site reveals those vessels are now being in the Red Sea in between the Saudi-Yemen border and Eritrea, not able to dump their fuel.

The UN has actually formerly implicated the Houthis of siphoning numerous countless dollars in fuel taxes allocated to pay civil servants. However, the UN has actually repeated that companies still require to run in the north, where the requirement is biggest.

The port of Hodeidah's fuel storage facility, running dry. The last shipment of oil arrived on December 30 last year.

Houthi officials tell CNN that they are being fined millions of dollars by the companies that own the ships while they are unable to dock.

Nearly three years ago the UN Security Council criminalized “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” and demanded that “access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation, including water and fuel” be kept intact in northern Yemen.

The Saudi government did not reply to CNN’s request for comment on the new fuel blockade and a question on whether blocking fuel might constitute a method of warfare.

The World Health Organization, which provides critical funding to hospitals and clinics, says it has actually been left with no funding at all to secure fuel to carry out its services across Yemen.

“From March 2021, WHO will have to stop distributing fuel to 206 facilities across the country, over 60 percent are hospitals providing services not available at the already fragile primary level. This will lead to the stoppage of life-saving services, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units, including COVID-19 ICUs. Over 9 million people will be affected,” it said in a document, shared with CNN.

The Saudi-backed Yemeni government has repeatedly denied CNN visas to enter the country’s north after coverage last year that exposed Saudi Arabia’s dramatic drop in humanitarian funding for the war. CNN traveled at night by boat from east Africa to reach the Houthi-controlled north, where a Saudi blockade has contributed to widescale suffering and enormous food security challenges.

Saudi Arabia has been targeting Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen since 2015, with the support of the US and other Western allies. It had hoped to stem the Houthis’ spread of power and influence in the country by backing the internationally-recognized government under President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis continue to hit Saudi targets with missiles from within Yemen and drone attacks.

Can Biden turn the war?

The dynamics of the conflict, however, appear to be rapidly changing. In February, US President Joe Biden announced a new Yemen strategy, giving momentum to the search for a ceasefire and eventual political solution.

There are few concrete details yet of his policy, but central to his announcement was the US’ withdrawal of offensive support for Saudi Arabia.

“The US historically has not viewed Yemen as an independent sovereign nation in its own right. The US has treated Yemen as an extension of either the US-Saudi policy or the US-Iranian crisis,” said Munir Saeed, former president of a Yemeni pro-democracy group TAWQ, at a Yemen briefing held by Fair Observer last week.

He welcomed the change in direction, saying the Biden strategy was the first from the US to put Yemen’s interests at its center.

“Dealing with Yemen as a country by itself that has its own problems, and cutting it away from the problems of Saudi-Iranian problems … is very important to lead to peace.”

The Obama administration was supportive of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen in 2015 and offered the Kingdom arms deals worth more than $115 billion total, more than any other US administration in the history of US-Saudi relations, according to a report by the Center for International Policy.

It later imposed restrictions on the sale of certain arms to Riyadh, including precision-guided munitions, after reports of civilian casualties in several Saudi-led airstrikes. The Trump administration reversed some of those restrictions, though he faced constant challenges in Congress.

As part of his new approach, Biden also appointed a special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, who is wrapping up a two-week visit to region, trying to engage different parties and give mediation efforts a reboot.

There will be limitations to how much the Biden administration can achieve, and ultimately, a ceasefire will depend on Yemeni actors on the ground.

And the Houthis are showing little appetite of slowing down, still launching missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, which has been responding with airstrikes. The Houthis said last week they had also seized control of 10 out of 14 districts of the strategic northern city of Marib.

On the back of his Gulf trip, Lenderking told CNN that Saudi Arabia and its allied Yemeni government were ready to agree to a ceasefire, and called on the Houthis to end their cross-border strikes and assault on Marib.

“They are ready to sit down to negotiate an end to the conflict with all relevant parties, including Ansarallah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, during which access to ports and other issues could be addressed and resolved quickly,” he said, using the group’s formal name, in an emailed response to CNN’s questions.

When asked about US support for Saudi Arabia while the country was blocking fuel deliveries to Hodeidah, Lenderking said the situation was “complex.”

“On fuel, we need to be clear where the problem lies,” he said, pointing to a UN accusation against the Houthis that they had siphoned fuel taxes earmarked to pay Yemeni civil servants to fund its war effort as the main reason the fuel tankers have been barred from docking.

“Instead, Ansarallah diverted them to their war effort, which they continue to fund with revenues from diverted imports and port revenues.”

The old city of the capital, Sana'a. Houthi rebels control Sana'a after forcing the internationally recognized government out.

Lenderking said the US was urging the Yemeni government to work with the UN around the impasse to ensure that aid continues to flow where it’s needed and that a fuel shortage doesn’t worsen the situation.

In Yemen, CNN met with Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a senior Houthi leader, who said his group was willing to come to the negotiating table but wanted to see more action from the US first before it put trust in Biden.

“First of all, President Biden was a partner of President Obama, and during that time they declared that they would join the coalition against our country. They also agreed about and gave the green light for the coalition to continue perpetuating the killing in our country,” he said.

“Trust is created by actions not words. Trust must come about by decisions. So far, we have not seen any concrete decisions being made.”

Aid agency’s plead for action now

A political solution, or at least an initial ceasefire, would go a long way in addressing the country’s food security problems.

“Ultimately, until there’s an end to the war, we are doing what we can to save lives. But Yemen needs peace,” said the World Food Programme’s Yemen spokesperson Annabel Symington.

In April last year, the WFP said it was forced to cut every second monthly food aid delivery to 8 million people in Yemen’s north. It’s now hoping to raise $1.9 billion, which will be enough just to avert widescale famine.

Mohammed, a severely malnourished 6-month old, at the Therapeutic Centre in Abs Hospital.

The WFP and most companies don’t know how much money they will get this year, but it isn’t looking good. A pledging conference on March 1 garnered less than half the $3.85 billion the UN estimates it needs just to keep the country fed and running.

Philippe Duamelle, the Yemen representative for UNICEF, is making an urgent plea for donors to step up their pledges, warning that 2.3 million children under the age of 5 in Yemen are projected to suffer acute malnutrition this year, up 16% from 2020.

“The children of Yemen cannot wait, we’ve got to be able to assist them and save them now. The situation has deteriorated significantly, and we need to reverse the trends now,” he said.

But in all humanitarian disasters, there are glimmers of hope. In the district of Harf Soufian, which in January descended into the “catastrophic” famine-like category, another 10-month old baby, just like Hassan Ali, has actually been fighting for her life.

Zahra sat in her mother’s arms, sucking her fingers, at the Rural Harf Soufian Hospital. All the staff here have been excited by her success story.

Ten-month-old Zahra sits in her mother's arms at the Rural Harf Soufian Hospital, where she has become a celebrated success story.

When she came to the hospital, her doctor stated, she weighed just 5 kilograms, putting her in the bottom 5% for girls by weight, according to WHO growth standards. In just four days, she has actually put on 400 grams, no mean feat for a baby from a district starved of food.

“She is improving,” said Dr. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, looking through a log of her weight gain.

“The hard thing is getting the children here. But when families can get them here, it makes a difference.”

Journalist Abdelrahman Khalid added to this report. Map by Renée Rigdon.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.