• An IRC-supported reproductive health facility in Hodeidah city was damaged by an airstrike and forced to suspend operations until further notice

  • Emirati military has been lead actor in Hodeidah military operations of the Saudi-led Coalition

  • Airstrikes overnight in Hodeidah city violate pause; hundreds of thousands of civilian lives in the city are at risk and millions more could suffer if port is disrupted

  • The IRC is scaling up health, nutrition and water and sanitation services in Hodeidah and surrounding areas but renewed intensified fighting will only make this more difficult

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is deeply concerned that an airstrike in Hodeidah damaged an IRC-supported ministry of health facility. The damage forced the suspension of operations and disrupted the provision of essential health services for an already vulnerable population.

The IRC pays salaries to midwives working in the facility who provide healthcare to pregnant and lactating women and deliver new babies, and provides the facility with critical drugs, medical equipment and access to clean water. Without essential services such as these the population of Hodeidah face the risk of a humanitarian disaster.

“All parties have a responsibility to ensure and protect access to such services, yet time and time again coalition strikes have resulted in the destruction of essential civilian infrastructure,” said Frank Mc Manus, Yemen country director at the International Rescue Committee. “If parties to the conflict continue to proceed with devastating warfare in Hodeidah city, they do so fully aware of the likely consequences for the civilian population, and they are obliged by international law to ensure protection of civilians and unfettered humanitarian access for the IRC and other aid agencies.”

Recognizing the devastating impact an attack on Hodeidah would have on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition paused their advance on the port city in order to give the UN Special Envoy more time to negotiate a political deal to end the crisis in Hodeidah. The airstrikes, which violate this pause, come a day after the Houthis claimed to have carried out a drone attack on a civilian airport in the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, the Houthis’ preparations for urban fighting is further exacerbating the situation for civilians. Houthi forces are digging trenches, damaging infrastructure — raising the specter of cholera in an area that was home to 15 percent of the 1 million suspected cases Yemen-wide last year.

“Not only is urban warfare putting thousands of lives at risk, forcing critical markets and shops to close, and limiting humanitarian access, but fighting in Hodeidah city would impact operations of the port and could trigger famine,” said Mc Manus. “More than eight million Yemenis are already on the brink of starvation, and the country relies on Hodeidah port for 80 percent of food and fuel imports and yet in July we know that imports of food into Hodeidah met less than half of the food requirements for that month. It is clear that even minor disruptions of port operations will be devastating.”

“Even if the port remains open, few ships will likely be willing to dock so long as there is an active conflict in the vicinity of the port. Should the battle conclude relatively rapidly, damage to the port could still delay its return to playing its central role as Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian lifeline. Already having one health facility damaged demonstrates the grave humanitarian impact fighting in the city will have.”

The war in Yemen, considered the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, is in its fourth year, with 22 million people in need of aid and only half of Yemen’s health facilities in both Houthi and government-controlled areas of the country operational. 120,000 Yemenis have already been displaced by the fighting in Hodeidah and areas surrounding the city, and it is estimated that 250,000 lives could be lost. Those with the means to leave have likely already done so, leaving the most vulnerable to watch to see whether their city is besieged.

The IRC was able to leverage the relative calm that came with the military “pause,” announced by the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on the 1st of July to relaunch the delivery of critical services in Hodeidah city and surrounding areas, supporting static health facilities and delivering mobile health and nutrition services to those displaced by the fighting. As we saw today, if fighting intensifies, the risks faced by those trying to access services and for IRC’s staff to deliver them will only increase.