Although battles are still raging in Hodeidah, people displaced from the port city have already begun returning to their homes from Sanaa, as they struggle to feed their families in the Yemeni capital.
Since pro-Yemeni government forces began their assault on the highly strategic Red Sea city a year ago, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) in Sanaa has played the leading role in providing Hodeidah’s displaced with monthly food packages.
However, the WFP suspended aid distribution in Sanaa last month after disputes with the Houthis over the agency’s biometric system introduced to prevent the rebel movement from diverting aid.
The decision affects 850,000 people in the capital Sanaa, including Hodeidah displaced.
Staring at the prospect of starvation in the capital, some Yemenis have returned to their war-torn homes where they are more likely to secure their monthly rations.
Mohammed al-Boraie, 43, fled his house in Hodeidah’s al-Rabasah neighbourhood in June 2018 after hearing there were organisations in Sanaa that could help the displaced there. He left everything behind, prioritising the safety of his seven family members.
“A friend rented a house for me in Sanaa and that was the first step towards stability,” Boraie told Middle East Eye.
WFP aid suspension
displaced back home
With starvation threats looming, Yemenis are trickling back from Sanaa to find a battle-ravaged city
in Hodeidah, Yemen
Published date: 1 July 2019 13:45 UTC
“Then the sheikh of the neighbourhood registered my name as a beneficiary for WFP aid and I have been receiving food aid from the WFP since August 2018.”
Boraie used to work as a bus driver, but when he arrived in Sanaa he could not find any work and his family struggled with basic services and proper healthcare.
“During the last year, we were depending on WFP food aid and the food was enough for the whole month,” he said.
“If not for the WFP aid, my children would starve to death.”
Boraie never thought that the WFP would stop providing his family with the much-needed food – and was shocked when they did.
“When the sheikh told me that the WFP would not provide us with food, I changed all our plans as we cannot stay in Sanaa without it,” he said.
“We knew from the sheikh that the WFP would continue to distribute food aid in Hodeidah and they only suspended it in Sanaa, so there was no choice but to return to our house in Hodeidah.”
Boraie borrowed money for transportation from a friend and took his family back to Hodeidah on 23 June.
When he arrived, he found the city in a better state than it had been last year – regular life has returned to some extent, despite ongoing battles in the outskirts.
In fact, Boraie said, anxiety he faced about the fighting last year has been replaced by fears his family will die of starvation instead.
There are 3.3 million people internally displaced in Yemen, while the humanitarian crisis there remains the worst in the world.
Nearly four years of conflict and severe economic decline have driven the country to the brink of famine and exacerbated needs in all sectors, according to the UN.
An estimated 80 percent of the population – 24 million people – require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance. Some 14.3 million of those are in acute need.
Meanwhile, the number of people in acute need has grown 27 percent over the past year. Two-thirds of all provinces in the country are in a pre-famine state.
A reviving city
Last year the streets of Hodeidah were almost emptied of people, and many shops and companies were shuttered as residents fled the fighting.
Hodeidah’s port is the conduit through which the majority of Yemen’s imports arrive to the country, and fighting there threatened to significantly worsen the humanitarian situation and catapult millions in famine.
UN-led efforts have helped alleviate the fighting, and in turn residents have gradually been trickling back to the city.
Around Hodeidah the sounds of clashes can be heard, and occasional shelling hits residential areas. Yet Yemenis are managing to regain a sense of normalcy all the same.
“Residents of Hodeidah do not care about the battles as they believe clashes aren’t going to stop any time soon. Besides, they are working hard to find food,” said Mubarak al-Otomi, a 35-year-old resident of the city.
“I was displaced but I returned to Hodeidah after suffering in Sanaa because of a lack of basic services and food.”
If the displaced had proper services in displacement, they would not return to the city amid fighting
– Mubarak al-Otomi, Hodeidah resident
Otomi said opportunities for employment in Hodeidah were much greater than before, and relief organisations were doing their best to help people.
“I believe that life in our home is better than displacement – no one thinks about fleeing the city again even if battles arrive at our houses,” he added.
“If the displaced had proper services in displacement, they would not return to the city amid fighting.”
Fighting usually intensifies at night, and for a long time people rarely ventured out after dark.
As things have improved, however, men, women and children are increasingly seen out in the evenings, and have adapted to the ferocious sounds of war in the distance.
Abdulkhaleq al-Sawa, 53, is from Hodeidah but now living in Sanaa.
He told MEE that many displaced people like him haven’t returned home yet, but the suspension meant they could soon head back to Hodeidah
“No one can deny the role of the WFP in helping displaced people in Sanaa and I am one of them – I became dependent on organisations,” Sawa said.
Sawa has been living in his brother’s house in Sanaa since July 2018 but he believes it’s time to go home and resume his regular life.
“In Hodeidah I can find work again as an accountant with a local corporation, as I used to do before the war,” he said.
He added that his return to Hodeidah had been delayed due to the sweltering temperatures in the city. Without electricity to return to, cooling his Hodeidah home would be impossible, so it’s better to wait a couple of months until the climate chills somewhat.
“The battles are not a threat as we have already adapted to them, but it is difficult for children to enjoy their lives in the hot weather,” he said.
Back in Hodeidah, Boraie said he had been pleased to find his hometown so full of people when he returned.
“War changed our life for the worse,” he said. “I hope warring parties stop this war, so we can resume our work and children can resume their studies in a safe environment.”
Total Deaths in Yemen
Top More Than 100,000
By Nicolas J. S. Davies
An NGO responsible for reporting on war deaths in Yemen has acknowledged that it has underestimated the casualties in the three-year-old conflict by at least five to one.
Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project had originally estimated that about 10,000 people had been killed in the war in Yemen, roughly the same number reported by the World Health Organization. WHO surveys are regularly cited as estimates of war deaths in Yemen by UN agencies and the world’s media. But ACLED now estimates the true number of people killed in Yemen is probably between 70,000 and 80,000.
ACLED’s estimates do not include the thousands of Yemenis who have died from the war’s indirect consequences, such as starvation and preventable diseases like diphtheria and cholera. UNICEF reported in December 2016 that a child was dying every 10 minutes in Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis has only worsened since then. At that rate the total of all deaths caused directly and indirectly by the war must by now be more than one hundred thousand.
Another NGO, the Yemen Data Project, revealed in September 2016 that at least a third of Saudi-led airstrikes, many of which involve U.S.-built and (until Friday U.S.-refueled warplanes) using U.S.-made bombs, were hitting hospitals, schools, markets, mosques, and other civilian targets. This has left at least half the hospitals and health facilities in Yemen damaged or destroyed, according to the Yemen Data Project, leaving them hardly able to treat the casualties of the war or serve their communities, let alone to compile meaningful figures for the WHO’s surveys.
Even comprehensive surveys of fully functioning hospitals would capture only a fraction of the violent deaths in a war-torn country like Yemen, where most of those killed in the war do not die in hospitals. And yet the UN and the world’s media have continued to cite the WHO surveys as reliable estimates of the total number of people killed in Yemen.
In a three-part series for Consortium News in April, I claimed that such estimates of civilian deaths in U.S. war zones were likely to be dramatically wrong because that is what epidemiologists have found whenever they have conducted serious mortality studies based on well-established statistical principles in war zones around the world.
Epidemiologists recently used some of the same techniques to estimate that about 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Studies in war-ravaged Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been widely cited by Western political leaders and the Western media with no hint of controversy.
Some of the same public health experts who had worked in Rwanda and Congo used the same methods to estimate how many people had been killed as a result of the U.S. and U.K.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. In two studies they published in the Lancet medical journal in 2004 and 2006, they found that about 600,000 people had been killed in the first three years of war and occupation.
Broad acceptance of these results would have been politically disastrous for the U.S. and UK governments. It would also have further discredited the Western media that had supported the invasion of Iraq and were still blaming the Iraqi victims of the illegal invasion of their country for the violence and chaos of the occupation. The British Defence Ministry’s chief scientific advisor described theLancet studies’ design as “robust” and their methods as “close to best practice,” and British officials admitted privately that they were “likely to be right.“ The U.S. and UK governments nonetheless launched a concerted campaign to discredit them.
No Scientific Basis
In 2005, as American and British officials and their acolytes in the corporate media discounted his work, Les Roberts, the lead author of the 2004 study, told the UK media watchdog Media Lens, “It is odd that the logic of epidemiology embraced by the press every day regarding new drugs or health risks somehow changes when the mechanism of death is their armed forces.”
Roberts, at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health at the time of the 2004 study and now at Columbia, accurately said there was no legitimate scientific basis for the objections being raised to his work and its results. But it was not so odd that embattled political leaders would use all the tools at their disposal to try to salvage their careers and reputations—and to preserve the U.S. and UK’s future freedom of action to destroy countries that stand in their way.
By 2005, most Western journalists in Iraq were hunkered down in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, reporting mainly from the CENTCOM briefing room. If they ventured out, they were embedded with U.S. forces traveling by helicopter or armored convoy between fortified U.S.bases. Dahr Jamail was one of a few brave, un-embedded Americans reporting from Iraq. (He later named his book about his time there Beyond the Green Zone.) Dahr told me he thought the true number of Iraqis killed might well be even higher than the Lancet studies’ estimates and that it was certainly not much lower, as the Western propaganda machine insisted it was.
Unlike Western governments and the Western media in the Iraq case, and UN agencies and the same Western media in Afghanistan and Yemen, ACLED does not defend its earlier, inadequate estimates of war deaths in Yemen. Instead, it is conducting a thorough review of its sources to come up with a more realistic estimate of how many people have been killed. Working back from the present, it now estimates that 56,000 people have been killed since January 2016.
Andrea Carboni of ACLED told Patrick Cockburn of The Independent newspaper in Britain that he believes ACLED’s estimate of the number killed in three and a half years of war on Yemen will be between 70,000 and 80,000 once it has finished reviewing its sources back to March 2015, when Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and their allies started the war.
But the true number of people killed in Yemen is inevitably even higher than ACLED’s revised estimate. As I explained in my Consortium News report, no such effort to count the dead by reviewing media reports, hospital records, and other “passive” sources, no matter how thoroughly, can ever fully count the dead amid the widespread violence and chaos of a country ravaged by war.
This is why epidemiologists have developed statistical techniques to produce more accurate estimates of how many people have really been killed in the world’s war zones. The world still waits for that kind of genuine accounting of the true human cost of the Saudi-U.S. war in Yemen and, indeed, of all America’s post-9/11 wars.
A earlier version of this article appeared on CounterPunch.
Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapter on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.