Yemen war: Standoff over Hodeidah port hampering aid efforts
A plan to hand over the Houthi-held port to neutral oversight has been blocked by the alliance between the Shiite rebels and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi said
Efforts to relieve the hunger and disease blighting Yemen are being hampered by a standoff over opening new ports as an alternative to Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Houthi rebels, the UN General Assembly gathering has heard.
Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi used an interview on the sidelines of the annual meeting on Sunday to warn that the port of Hodeidah has become such a bottle neck that the entire reconciliation process is in doubt.
A plan to hand over the port to neutral oversight has been blocked by the alliance between the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Mr Hadi told a television interviewer.
“The legitimate government extends its hand for peace because it is responsible for the Yemeni people and for lifting the suffering,” he said. “[Unfortunately] the military solution is the more likely one in light of the intransigence of the Houthi and Saleh coup militias, which continue to take orders from Iran.”
Mr Hadi spoke as talks on providing humanitarian aid to Yemen emerged as a major theme of the United Nations meeting.
The GCC told high-level representatives that the collective contribution has reached US$15 billion (Dh55.1bn) in a decade.
The current UN appeal seeks to raise $2.1bn to address a cholera outbreak affecting 700,000 people and widespread starvation. Dr Abdelaziz bin Hamad Al Owaisheq, the GCC's under secretary general for political affairs and negotiations, said the bloc had earmarked $450 million for this appeal.
While some countries such as Saudi Arabia, Britain and the United States have made contributions that exceeded even their own pledges, the predicament over getting aid into Yemen has become ever more urgent.
Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, head of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre in Riyadh, said there were delays in offloading relief materials in Hodeidah and concerns over kickbacks to the Houthi commanders in charge of the port. While building materials and vehicles appear to pass smoothly, cargoes of food or medical supplies are informally taxed at a rate as high as $100,000 to offload a vessel, said Dr Al Rabeeah.
Saudi Arabia is pressing for the opening of alternative ports and has also offered the use of its own Jizan port, located about 260 kilometres north of Hodeidah.
“This is far closer to Saada and the north [of Yemen] than Hodeidah," Dr Al Rabeeah said. "Although we would like to see Hodeidah to full capacity, until that happens we should use the maximum available ports, whether they are from Yemen, from Saudi Arabia, or land ports.”
US officials have expressed frustration that a USAID contribution of four large capacity dockside cranes for Hodeidah has not been allowed into the country to start operations. USAID made the contribution to the World Food Programme.
There are an estimated 15 cargo ships carrying food and fuel that have been authorised by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism to enter the port but are still waiting for permission from the commanders to dock. “Most of the donors have this concern about how can we get in,” said UN humanitarian special envoy Ahmed Al Meraikhi.
Even when the shipments leave port, there is a persistent problem with looting. Dr Al Rabeeah estimated that between 2015 and 2017 a total of 65 shiploads of aid and 124 relief convoys had been pillaged by the rebel forces.
Mark Lowcock, the coordinator of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humantiarian Affairs (OCHA), told the UN that the delays amounted to a violation of international law and called for more pressure to change the situation.
“Too often, de facto authorities in Sanaa delay or block humanitarian assistance or the movements of humanitarian staff, including for the cholera response,” he said. “This is despite a clear obligation under international law to allow unimpeded passage for humanitarian relief. These impediments are unacceptable."
He pointed out that Yemen imports more than 90 per cent of its staple food and nearly all its fuel and medicine.
Mr Lowcock also called for the re-opening of Sanaa airport to commercial traffic so that Yemenis can travel abroad for medical care and for salaries to start flowing to government employees.
Despite the hurdles, some aid agencies such as the Emirates Red Crescent have been able to mount large-scale relief operations and provide education and medical care across Yemen.
Mr Hadi’s warnings about a lack of progress on the political track are widely shared. Diplomats have pledged to intensify efforts to secure political compromise as the last key to resolving the humanitarian problems.
“Finding a resolution to the conflict in Yemen is a very high priority for all of us at the foreign office and the department for international development who are providing support for Yemen,” said the British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt.
“We want to see the conflict brought to an end. We are working with all parties and using all our diplomat efforts to do so."
"It’s very important we recognise the only way to bring this to an end is though a negotiated political settlement and we wish to encourage parties towards that end.”
Updated: September 24, 2017 10:32 PM