The battle for the western Yemen port of Hodeidah over the past week could be a tipping point in the three-year civil war that has thrust millions of Yemeni people to the brink of famine.
A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states has closed in on Hodeidah since June 13 in an extensive assault to reclaim the rebel-held port city.
Hodeidah is a vital lifeline to the impoverished nation that relies almost entirely on imported food, medicine and fuel, from both commercial and humanitarian sources.
The Yemeni pro-government forces are reportedly on the brink of retaking Hodeidah’s airport after their Apache attack helicopters bombed a strip of the coastal territory as well as the main road to Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, as tens of thousands of people attempt to flee the port city.
Yemen’s government said on Saturday it would “not attack” the vital port.
Foreign Minister Khaled Alyemany said the pro-government troops and militia, who are backed by the Saudi-led coalition, would instead seek to preserve key infrastructure, according to the BBC.
United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Australia Obaid Al Heri Salem Ketbi said a comprehensive aid delivery strategy would follow military action with support for people in Hodeidah.
“We will establish direct shipping lanes to ensure aid starts arriving as soon as possible,” he said.
However, the United Nations and humanitarian aid agencies remain fearful for the lives of thousands of civilians, with more than 90 per cent of food imported into Yemen overall – and 70 per cent of that food imported through the port of Hodeidah.
Why is Yemen at war?
It’s estimated 10,000 Yeminis have been killed and millions are on the cusp of starvation after more than three years of civil war.
Fighting began in 2014 when the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement seized control of northern Saada province and neighbouring areas.
The Iranian-aligned Houthis took hold of the capital Sana’a, forcing authoritarian president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile.
In 2015, Saudia Aabia and other Sunni Arab states began airstrikes against the Houthis and declared their aim of restoring Mr Hadi’s government.
The Saudi-led coalition feared the Houthis’ power would give their rival regional power in Iran a foothold in Yemen, which shares its northern border with Saudi Arabia.
What is the state of the humanitarian crisis?
The United Nations estimates 8.4 million people remain on the brink of famine in Yemen in what has been labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Nadine Drummond, a humanitarian aid worker for Save the Children in Sana’a, told The New Daily one-third of the Yemeni people don’t know where their next meal will come from.
Ms Drummond stressed how important it was for the port to remain operational for humanitarian aid, but also the other two-thirds of the population who rely on the commercial import of food, medicine and fuel.
“When we’re taking about a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, it’s not just about access to humanitarian aide, it’s also about the reliance of commercial imports,” she said.
“If that port closes, the whole country is going to spiral out of control.”