Yemen faces a major food and fuel crisis in wake of airstrikes

People search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi airstrikes near Sanaa Airport, Yemen, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Photo: Abbo Haitham

Airstrikes that began in Yemen on March 25 are pushing this struggling country toward economic collapse and making life harder for 16 million people already in need of humanitarian aid.

By early April, the violence had killed 500 people and injured 1,700 others, many of them civilians. Food has doubled in price and the cost of fuel has quadrupled in some areas. The supply of diesel, which fuels transportation, food distribution, and water pumping for irrigation, drinking and washing, is running dangerously low. In Aden, fuel scarcity has cut off water to entire communities.

“This conflict is tearing Yemen apart,” said Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s country director there. “Oxfam is calling on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to bring an immediate end to the violence and allow for regular imports of food and fuel to begin again.”

Hope—and then a sudden change

The airstrikes follow a deteriorating security situation, dragging the country ever further from the possibilities the Arab Spring seemed to promise when it reached Yemen back in 2011.

“We all hoped that was the first step towards a better future. People were enthusiastic back then. People were excited,” said an Oxfam staffer based in Sanaa, whose name we are withholding for her protection. “But in September 2014, the security situation deteriorated. The government changed without warning, the transition period seemed to stop.”

Then, the airstrikes started.

“Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food,” said the staffer, who has been focusing on women’s rights. “My brother went to buy food yesterday. He said that several of the shops were out of flour. There was none in the markets close to where I live, either.

“Yemen imports practically all of its food, petrol, everything. Now our borders are closed and there are no flights coming in or supply ships docking.

“What’s going to happen? I’m not sure. Nobody is sure.”

Challenges of delivering aid

“The current escalation in violence is placing increased pressure on the lives of more than 16 million Yemeni who already need aid. But humanitarian access to most of the people in need of basic support remains too difficult because of the conflict,” said Ommer.

Still, Oxfam has managed to distribute cash to more than 4,000 households to help them buy basic necessities. We have also delivered water containers and filters to the Hodeidah area and are sending truck of clean water into vulnerable areas. Our plan is to provide help to 80,000 people in the coming weeks, ultimately reaching about one million people as access improves.

Oxfam has been working in Yemen for 30 years. Along with helping partner organizations work to empower women, we have been focusing a good deal of effort on water delivery. Since 2012, we have rehabilitated water systems in 41 rural communities in the western part of the country, providing more than 125,000 people with safe drinking water. In the north, in the Sa’ada governate  where years of conflict have destroyed infrastructure, we have also been working to repair and install water sources. And planning for the longer-term, we are piloting three solar pump drinking water systems, which will help more than 20,000 people in three communities.

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