16 May 2015

Yemen conflict: a frantic race to get food into Aden

With time running out on a humanitarian window, residents in the Yemeni city of Aden – which has suffered much of the country’s recent violence – race to replenish the city of basic food supplies.

An independent journalist in Yemen reports for Channel 4 News:

On the western corner of the Arabian Peninsula the southern port-city of Aden has seen some of the worst battles of Yemen’s civil war since it began in March.

Fierce street-to-street fighting has left up to 1,000 people dead, medics here say, and forced thousands of the city’s 800,000 residents out of their homes.

Houthi militiamen, backed by military units loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have seized control of central districts of Aden as well as access routes – making the delivery of aid and food supplies by road increasingly difficult.

Resistance fighters, largely made up of local residents attempting to defend their homes, have been unable to halt the Houthis’ advance.

The clock ticks

Now, in a race against time as the clock ticks on a five-day humanitarian ceasefire due to end Sunday, the only way significant food supplies can come into the city is by sea.

Regular commercial imports, for which Yemen relies on for 90 per cent of its food, have been shut down by the Saudi-led coalition as part of a naval blockade imposed since its bombing campaign against the Houthis began on March 26.

Although aid agencies have been able to bring in some small shipments of emergency aid, the city has been unable to replenish its depleted stocks of basic food supplies such as rice, flour, beans and sugar.

Humanitarian tanker

Yet one cargo vessel has made it through to Aden. Rather than being laden with its usual consignment of oil the tanker carried 550 metric tonnes of essential food provisions as well as medical equipment, all donated by businessmen from Yemen’s eastern province of Hadhramaut which has so far been largely immune to the two month-long conflict.

After negotiations with the al-Qaeda-tribal coalition, currently controlling Hadhramaut’s port of Mukalla, the tanker loaded its cargo earlier this month to take vital food to desperate Adenis.

But weeks of heavy fighting in the city’s harbour area which nestles around a dormant volcano has made it too dangerous for large vessels to dock.

‘They need to give us more time’

Just after dawn this morning, at a safe distance of 1.5 kilometres off shore, the last few tonnes of food were still being lifted by local residents from the deck into small fishing boats, dwarfed in the shadows of the tanker.

The unloading should usually take 48 hours but with multiple trips back and forth the captain is still trying to off load his ship’s cargo after almost a week.

“Time. It takes time like this,” said the captain while young men tossed boxes of canned beans into the shallow hulls of the blue wooden boats.

“They need to give us more time,” he added, gesturing towards the mountain ridges in the distance.

Back on the beach as small trucks waited to collect their payloads from the sea news trickled through of fresh fighting in the city.