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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Displaced Hodeidah civilians seek security in small southern town

A new mobile healthcare clinic has become a hub for those who fled to Khokha

Yemenis displaced from the port city of Hodeidah receive aid donated by the World Food Programme in the northern province of Hajjah on September 25, 2018. AFP
Yemenis displaced from the port city of Hodeidah receive aid donated by the World Food Programme in the northern province of Hajjah on September 25, 2018. AFP

With Yemeni government forces resuming an operation to retake the critical rebel-held port city of Hodeidah on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, civilians have again begun escaping, many bringing tales of Houthi violence and desperation.

Retaking the city is critical to breaking the Houthi stranglehold on the port, the Arab Coalition backing the Yemen government says, amid an ever worsening humanitarian situation which the UN warns is verging on widespread famine.

Over 76,500 households have been displaced by the fighting around Hodeidah since June, according to UN data, with the majority fleeing the province. Many are heading south on the coastal road – through a landscape still littered with Houthi landmines – where one of the first settlements they reach is Khokha.

A sandy town 120 kilometres south of Hodeidah, Khokha is not much more than a few winding residential streets around a crossroads where a route heads inland towards the town of Hays.

Khokha fell to the Houthi rebels in late 2014 and was retaken by Yemeni government forces last December. There is a large mosque, a post office, rows of fishing boats pulled up on the beach, and a scattered patchwork of farmers’ fields set back on the coastal plain. But not much to welcome the thousands of displaced civilians arriving here from Hays, Al Duraihmi, Al Jah and Hodeidah.

That is why a mobile healthcare clinic set up earlier this month has become a new hub in the town.

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From children suffering the effects of traumatic stress to cases of acute diarrhoea caused by contaminated drinking water, some 160 patients receive life-saving primary healthcare daily, says Dr Hasan Abu Al Ghaith of the Yemeni Taiyba Foundation which runs the clinic with support from the Saudi King Salman Centre for Relief and Humanitarian Aid.

The situation is desperate, he says. Across Yemen, 1.1 million cases of acute watery diarrhoea or cholera have been reported since April 2017. With more than a quarter of Yemen’s population dependant on aid, the UN’s humanitarian Mark Lowcock warned the Security Council on Friday: “We are losing the fight against famine.”

In one bed, a pale eight-year-old girl said the fear of fighting near her home in Hodeidah had made her sick. "Houthis frightened me, they were shelling from near our house, the sound of the mortars was very scary, I couldn't sleep for two days."

Women and children make up a large proportion of the clinic’s patients, said Etab, the female medical assistant who runs the women’s ward.

In addition to wards for men and women, the clinic runs a laboratory and pharmacy and a dedicated ward for treating children suffering from malnutrition. Up to a quarter of children arriving from Hodeidah are malnourished, according to UN data.

The foundation which runs the clinic is also providing food, shelter kits, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to the fleeing civilians. Around 4,000 displaced are currently staying in the town.

“Life is much better now, they have done a lot to help us," said Zahra, a 30-year-old woman from Al Jah, who brought her six-year-old nephew to the clinic suffering from diarrhoea.