After nearly three weeks, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has eased the blockade of air, sea, and land routes in Yemen, lowering restrictions on the main airport and two seaports. This new access has allowed the United Nations to resume humanitarian aid to the conflict-torn country. During the blockade, millions of people were left without access to food and medicine, exacerbating the food and health crises in the country. Although this is a positive step towards reestablishing human security in Yemen, lifting the blockade does not provide a permanent solution to the crisis or ensure the long-term safety and well-being of all Yemeni residents.
In 2015, the Saudi-led coalition intervened against the rebels, known as the Houthis, on behalf of Yemen’s government. According to The Washington Post, ground and air strikes have killed more than 10,000 people in the past two years, over 3 million people have been left displaced, and 17 million people lack reliable access to food, as a result of the war.
The coalition’s efforts have produced minimal results, as the rebels still control most of northern Yemen. They implemented the blockade on November 6 after the Houthis initiated a missile attack against Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The coalition eased these restrictions based on the necessity for emergency humanitarian aid and relief flights, according to BBC News.
Since opening access to seaports and airports held by Houthi rebels, shipments of food and supplies are entering the region. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed that three humanitarian flights landed and took off in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Additionally, the first commercial cargo vessel docked in the Hodeida port, bringing 5,500 metric tons of flour, and a UN-chartered ship arrived at the Salif port, carrying 25,000 metric tons of wheat. Dujarric emphasized that “it is important that there is unimpeded access for both humanitarian and commercial cargo to enter Hodeida and Salif ports, including those carrying fuel…Fuel is urgently required to operate generators for hospitals, water well pumps and sanitation units and to facilitate the tracking of drinking water and staple food”. World Food Program country director Stephen Anderson explained that the UN ships carry enough food to feed 1.8 million people in northern Yemen for one month.
Moreover, UNICEF delivered 1.9 million doses of vaccines to Sanaa. The next vital step is to ensure that the supplies can get to the vulnerable children who need it, which may prove to be more difficult, specifically in conflict-stricken northern Yemen. These vaccines will immunize children against a multitude of diseases but are especially crucial today as diphtheria, a potentially fatal disease that has been controlled in most of the world, resurged this month in Yemen, killing at least 120 people, according to The Washington Post. Furthermore, The New York Times reports that the conflict has devastated the Yemeni health care sector and brought the largest single-year outbreak of cholera ever recorded. Even though the cholera epidemic is weakening in Yemen, there was a risk of reemergence after chlorine tablets, which are used to sanitize water, were blocked from arrival by the blockade.
BBC News estimates that more than 20 million people in Yemen are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, 11 million of them children. While the aid shipments are crucial, particularly to the northern Yemenis, the arrival of essential supplies is only the first step. Geert Cappalaere, the regional director for UNICEF, said, “We are very grateful for what we could achieve yesterday. However, this is not enough. Far more humanitarian supplies are needed today… Yesterday’s success cannot be a one-off”. With millions of civilians in need of food and supplies and given the unlikelihood of a peaceful end to the conflict in the foreseeable future, this removal of the blockade should be used to catalyze further humanitarian assistance efforts.
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