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Middle East

Yemenis in dire need of food, fuel and water as fighting intensifies

media The southern city of Aden has endured recent intense street battles, 29 April 2015 Reuters

Russia called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Friday to address the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which activists have described to RFI as extremely dire.

The World Health Organisation says 1,250 people have died in the fighting. Anxiety has also swept the population of 25 million as Yemen is nearly bereft of food, water and fuel, which only exacerbates all of the other shortages.

“Everything in this county needs fuel to run. The hospitals need the generators and the ambulances, phone companies, the water companies,” said Marie-Claire Feghali, the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sana’a. “If you walk in the streets of Sana’a today you will see queues of people sleeping in front of gas stations just to get a little bit.”

Impoverished even before the conflict erupted, many Yemenis are worried that their food supply will quickly dry up. And with entry points fallen to violence and airport runways out of service as a result of the air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition, no supplies can come through. For a country that has imported 90 per cent of its food, humanitarian groups say the situation is dire.

“Over the past four or five years, over half of the population was food insecure. And this was before the coalition’s attack so now that situation has been disastrously exacerbated over the past two months,” said Hisham Omeisy, a Yemeni activist who lives in Sana’a.

The humanitarian crisis is occurring alongside intensified fighting, including the first Houthi-lodged attack on Thursday on the border with Saudi Arabia.

“The Houthis are in a desperate situation and they would like to showcase some sort of success, even if it’s short-lived, even if it’s the matter of a moral boost for their own supporters,” Walid Al Saqaf, a Yemeni scholar at the University of Stockholm in Sweden and co-founder of the aggregator Yemen Portal, told RFI.

Al Saqaf says that while the assault did not go well for them, the Houthis were perhaps trying to use a show of force to counter reports of losses. The Saudi Defence Ministry has reported that the Houthis were repelled by a combination of Saudi ground troops and airstrikes, and that a total of three Saudi soldiers and "dozens" of Houthis were killed.

Meanwhile, the southern city of Aden has endured recent intense street battles and the capital Sana’a has been subject to some of the worst sustained air raids, even though Riyadh announced early last week a halt to the strikes.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has also said that the lack of fuel imports could cause humanitarian efforts to end within days. Already, the World Food Programme said it was stopping its programmes in the face of needing some 45,000 gallons of fuel to continue food distribution.

Ban has also renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire, adding that at least there should be a humanitarian pause in areas affected by the fighting.

Omeisy says that with few options and a dearth of supplies, people in the capital have joined with the Houthis because they have nothing to lose and march towards the Saudi Arabian border to change the status quo.

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