Even in the best of times, Yemen imports some 90% of its food from abroad, and in times of peace this has meant a constant flow of cargo ships loaded down with food at all their major ports. When Saudi Arabia attacked in 2015, they started with a naval blockade, grinding commerce to a halt.
Since then, shipping food to Yemen has been an exercise in futility, with for-profit shippers reporting they sometimes are stuck off the coast for weeks or even months trying to get permission to deliver the food. That’s forced the nation to rely heavily on humanitarian aid, but in Northern Yemen, which is still out of control of the Saudis, shipping food aid isn’t so easy.
The Red Cross announced today that at some point this month they will send a “test shipment” of rice to the last port in northern Yemen’s control, Hodeidah, just to see what happens. The Red Cross suspended its involvement in food shipments to Hodeidah back in February, and those still trying to get there have found the port often under attack.
The Red Cross’ lack of specificity on timing of the shipment, beyond sometime next week is likely intended not to tip off the blockading force, and to see if, as they maintain, they’ve really eased the process for getting food into the country.
If getting food into Hodeidah is possible, it could be a chance for the aid groups to greatly relieve the chronic malnutrition the northerners are suffering under, and prevent the starvation that many are facing as the war drags on far longer than anyone expected.
Even if the rice gets to Hodeidah, unloading it will be a challenge, as Saudi warplanes have destroyed many of the cranes at the port. The World Food Programme attempted to deliver replacement cranes recent, but were prevented from doing so, and the cranes remain stuck in Dubai while they wait for Saudi permission.