Yemen being pushed ever closer to famine

Published: 19th December 2017

1,000 days of war and a crippling blockade is starving its people

Yemen is being pushed ever closer to famine after 1,000 days of a brutal war, exacerbated by a crippling blockade of its key northern ports which is starving its people of food, fuel and medicine Oxfam warned today.

Some 90 per cent of Yemen’s food has to be imported and since a Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade of the country’s key northern ports more than a month ago, only over a third of the food its people need is coming in. More than 8.4 million people are now at acute risk of famine.

Food prices have shot up by 28 per cent since early November 2017, making it unaffordable for poor families already hit by the collapse of the economy. Clean water supplies in towns and cities have been cut due to fuel shortages, which will have serious implications given that the country is suffering the world’s largest cholera epidemic. Hospitals are running out of medicines and diphtheria cases have risen. At least a million children are at risk of contracting the disease.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, said: “For 1,000 days, huge amounts of sophisticated modern weapons have pounded Yemen, and on top of that we are now witnessing a Medieval siege where mass starvation is being used as a weapon of war. Cutting off vital food, fuel and medicine to a population is never justified and should never be tolerated. It is tactic that is devoid of any sense of decency, any sense of morality and any sense of humanity.

“We are finally hearing concern about the pursuit of this war from those countries which have fuelled the destruction through their arms sales - including strong and uncompromising words from the UK and US. These words need to be turned into collective action. The UK, as the country responsible for action on Yemen on the UN Security Council, can make a difference. It needs to act decisively, use its unique position to bring collective action to end to the blockade, end the fighting and put Yemen on the road to peace. Failure to do so would be dereliction of its diplomatic duty.”

Over the past 1,000 days:

  • ·    Over 5,500 civilians were killed
  • ·    Three million people were forced to flee their homes
  • ·    Nearly one million people got infected by cholera in the world’s worst outbreak ever recorded

Oxfam said all that all parties to the conflict bear responsibility for these huge levels of human suffering and all are responsible for violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law.

No fuel, essential for moving food and other vital goods around the country, has been allowed into the main ports since early November. The Ras Isa oil terminal, on Yemen’s west coast, has been closed since March 2017 following instructions from the Saudi-led coalition.

Around 80 per cent of all of Yemen’s imports flow through Al-Hudaydah and Saleef ports, and about two-thirds of Yemen’s population live in the areas directly served by these ports. These ports handled around 85 per cent of all wheat grain imports in 2016.

At least six ships waiting to dock at the ports of Al-Hudaydah and Saleef port have turned back due to lengthy delays. Relief agencies and commercial importers face financial burdens due to the delays of ships anchoring outside of Al-Hudaydah in deep water; costs amounting to more than US$10,000 per ship per day.

There are worrying signs that there could be an imminent attack on Al-Hudaydah port. The port’s cargo handling infrastructure –cranes and warehouses –have been attacked before and has reduced its capacity to import goods. A lengthy battle over the port would risk shutting it down and will have a massive impact of the millions of people reliant on its imports.

The international agency said there would be no realistic alternative to supply in sufficient quantity the vital amounts of food, fuel and medicines if Al-Hudaydah was put out of action.

Notes to editors

1. Oxfam's media brief, "Yemen's crisis: 1,000 days of disaster" describes the impact of the 1,000 days of war and the terrible levels of suffering Yemeni people are facing. Download the media brief here:

2. Oxfam's policy brief "Missiles and Food: Yemen's man-made food security crisis" highlights Yemen's food pipeline situation as well as the current levels of food insecurity in the country leading to an increasing threat of famine. Read the policy brief here:

Contact information

Benjamin Wiacek | Yemen Media Lead | +33 7 69 32 61 67 (France) | 

For updates, please follow @Oxfam or @OxfamYemen.

What you can do now

The public can support Oxfam's humanitarian response in Yemen.

You can also sign a Yemeni doctor's open letter to the UN to end the blockade of Yemen.