As of Monday, forces of the Saudi-led coalition have advanced within twenty miles of Hodeidah, Yemen’s 3rd largest city. Fighting first broke out in 2015, when Saudi Arabia and other Arab states decided to take action in Yemen. Their aim was to push back the Houthi group, which had pushed Yemen’s president into exile, and move to overtake the country. Saudi Arabia viewed the Houthi rebels as proxies of Iran, so their intervention was intended to prevent the rebels from taking further power in Yemen. The violent conflict consisted of air raids which targeted residential areas, schools, factories, and mosques, and inflicted high civilian casualties. The coalition forces have also blockaded Yemen’s borders to prevent supplies from getting into the country. The advance of forces towards the Houthi-held city of Hodeidah poses a further threat to the Yemeni people.
Hodeidah is a major port city on the western coast of Yemen. As a central point where food, medicine, and other supplies can flow into the country, this city holds great significance. Seventy percent of humanitarian aid to Yemen is delivered to Hodeidah. If the city were seized and the port disrupted, this crucial aid might not be delivered. The coalition previously had plans to seize Hodeidah, which they announced last year; however, the forces backed down from this plan after the UN warned of the potential disastrous effects.
Yemen has become the world’s largest man-made humanitarian crisis as a result of the conflict which the Saudis initiated. There are two million Internally Displaced Persons in the country, and roughly 22.2 million people in need. Yemenis are currently facing the world’s largest food insecurity crisis as well as the largest cholera outbreak. Acute malnutrition is widespread, and specifically affects high numbers of children and pregnant or lactating women. As schools have been damaged by the conflict and are also being used to host IDPs, 21 percent of Yemen’s schools are out of use, barring many children’s access to education. Over 50 percent of health centers have ceased to function due to the conflict and the limited medicine that is available. Civilians are also suffering from a lack of clean water and sanitation as well as an increase in gender-based violence. As the conflict grows, people are increasingly unable to procure food, health care, and safety for themselves. Therefore, humanitarian aid is increasingly crucial in supporting the lives of those in Yemen. These needs highlight the necessity that the port city of Hodeidah remains open and protected.
While it is not explicitly clear whether the forces of the Saudi-led coalition are aiming to move into Hodeidah, this potential move is a mounting concern. As noted above, the negative effects had on innocent civilians would be significant. While the military coalition may aim to strike Hodeidah in order to target the Houthis, civilians would bear the brunt of the attack. With Yemen already a largely poor and suffering country, the implications of disrupting this port cannot be stressed enough. The entire country would suffer from the loss of aid and other supplies. The coalition must recognize the gravity of this action before moving forward.
In addition, the consequences of this action should spark increased conversation in the United States regarding support of Saudi Arabia. Current plans to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia should be considered alongside the heinous actions against civilians committed by the coalition forces. The US has previously assisted the coalition in its bombing through intelligence and refueling efforts. Despite a lack of official support, these efforts do seem to be helping the coalition rather than hindering it. US policymakers must decide whether the United States should continue its unofficial support as forces advance towards Hodeidah and usher in a critical threat to the lives of Yemeni civilians.