Fresh Conflict Pushes Yemen In to An Abyss of Starvation and Death
Faisal, 18 months old is treated for severe acute malnutrition at Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. (Representational Image/ UN)

Three years after the war in Yemen began, to dislodge the Houthi rebels who had taken control of the capital city of Sana’a and retake territories captured by them, the country has been pushed into an abyss of starvation, famine, and death.

Despite, a child is dying every 10 minutes and an impending famine threatening to starve 14 million people, the Saudi-led coalition has launched a fresh offensive in the hopes to impart a lasting blow to the Iran-backed group fighting to maintain their hold in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition forces which now include soldiers from Sudan, are now battling for the complete control of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah. The fighting has intensified, as government forces backed by Saudi-led coalition air strikes advance on rebel positions near the port area.

More than 150 people are reported to have been killed since troops and militiamen stepped up a ground assault on the city's outskirts last Thursday.

The UN’s chief humanitarian co-ordinator, Mark Lowcock, said this week that the country was now facing an “apocalyptic scenario” as 14 million people, or half the population, are on the brink of starvation as Hodeidah is the last lifeline of those living in rebel-controlled areas.

Up to 80% of the humanitarian supplies, fuel and commercial goods on which they depend are delivered through the facility. UN officials have warned that the toll in lives could be catastrophic if it is damaged, destroyed or blocked.

But, the fighting looks to enter the last refuge of war-ravaged Yemenis as Amnesty International has warned that Houthi rebels have turned a medical centre in Yemen’s contested city of Hodeidah into a sniper position. This is a sign the Iran-backed group is “militarising” hospitals, and using civilians as human shields, Amnesty International has warned.

The report came as more than a dozen aid groups sounded the alarm about the “catastrophic” impact of renewed fighting between the rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition over the Red Sea city. "Hospitals — most of which are now non-functioning — are packed with people who are desperate — wounded people from the war, especially large numbers of women with babies who are both suffering from acute malnutrition."

Meanwhile, a Save the Children-supported clinic in another part of town was hit by gunfire on the same day, destroying a pharmacy that held lifesaving medicines.

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontiers) reported an influx of wounded civilians in recent days, with 24 wounded, including women and children from Hodeidah, with mostly blast and gunshot injuries.

Placing gunmen on a hospital roof blurs lines which should never be blurred. Hospitals are not a target: the sick and injured have an absolute right to safe medical treatment at all times, and medical workers must be allowed to carry out their lifesaving work,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns.

Over 30 local and international charities released a joint statement on Thursday calling for an immediate ceasefire. A separate statement signed by 14 charities, including Save The Children and Care International, warned that civilians were being used as human shields in Hodeidah as the fighting has intensified over the last few days.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food assistance to about seven to eight million people every day, "but the situation has now got so dire that WFP is preparing to scale up", spokesperson Herve Verhoosel told journalists in Geneva on Thursday. The WFP said the violence must stop immediately to give Yemen "a chance to pull back from the brink".

"Unless it does, this will become a country of living ghosts, its people reduced to sacks of bones. Humanitarians can only do so much in the face of relentless bombing and unconscionable war tactics that spare no one."

Despite the growing international pressure, including from the U.S. and UK to enter into a ceasefire, the Saudi-led coalition seems to be fighting a battle to eliminate the hold of Houthi rebels, once and for all. And ordinary Yemenis continue to bear the brunt of this war.