In Depth

Yemen famine: hungry families searching landfills for food

UN says 14 million people at risk of starvation as civil war nears fourth year

Starving civilians caught up in the Yemen conflict are so desperate for food that they are scavenging for scraps in landfills, according to a local doctor.

Before the outbreak of civil war between government forces and Houthi rebels in 2015, the port city of Hodeidah was the entry point for 70% of imports to Yemen - which has historically shipped in almost all of its food from abroad.

A focal point of the conflict, Hodeidah is controlled by rebels but surrounded by government forces and their Saudi-led coalition backers, resulting in an almost total blockade on food supplies.

Local doctor Ashwaq Moharram has described desperate scenes in the city.

“We have people scrabbling through garbage tips to eat,” she told The Independent. “They can’t even look for food in their neighbours’ waste, as all of them are poor and have no supplies.”

A UN-backed truce between the rebels and government forces was supposed to see all troops withdrawn from the city by 7 January.

But clashes continue in and around the city as both sides accuse their opponents of violating the ceasefire, “reviving the threat of an all-out assault on Hodeidah that could unleash famine”, says Reuters.

The UN estimates that half of Yemen’s 28 million citizens are living in “pre-famine” conditions, meaning they are entirely reliant on precarious humanitarian aid convoys.

Around 19 million have no access to clean drinking water, according to Al Jazeera.

In November, it was reported that as many as 85,000 children under the age of five had perished as a result of malnutrition.

The violence has also made it impossible for civilians in the most contested areas to access medical aid.

“In one area along the coast, an entire family was injured in a strike and all of them died. Imagine a whole family bleeding to death,” said Moharram, who runs a mobile medical clinic serving remote areas in the region.

However, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has insisted that despite the setbacks, the truce is “generally holding”.

“Timelines have been extended. The original deadlines were rather ambitious,” he said, adding: “I believe that the political leadership of both parties is determined to put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

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