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Hodeidah ceasefire in balance, while civilians under fire in Hajjah

Countries
Yemen
Sources
NRC
Publication date

Quote from Nigel Tricks, NRC's East Africa and Yemen Regional Director, speaking from Hajjah, Yemen:

"Whilst the eyes of the world are on Hodeidah, airstrikes and shells continue to rain down on civilians in other parts of Yemen, killing with impunity. Attacks in Kushar district this week have killed innocent women and children, and left many more people injured. Large numbers of people are being displaced within Hajjah Governorate. Many of these people have been displaced multiple times over the last four years. Thousands more remain trapped by front lines in Kushar, and areas bordering Sa'ada. Civilians must be able to flee to safety and get to help.

"Less than three months after a ceasefire was put in place, major clashes have erupted in Hodeidah, leaving the Stockholm agreement hanging in the balance. The ceasefire has had positive impacts. It has helped reduce violence in the city and governorate, allowing some people to return home; shops and business are reopening, and people are trying to resume their daily lives. It is vital that the ceasefire and Stockholm agreements are implemented without delay.

"Among our biggest concern is ensuring sustained access to Hodeidah port. Further military escalation risks cutting the supply line of vital food, water and medicines, leaving civilians with no means of replenishing their supplies. Violence affecting the port could precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented levels."

"NRC condemns the ongoing violence and calls on conflict parties to immediately stop the killing and injuring of civilians.

Latest updates:

· Many civilians have been killed following airstrikes that hit houses in Kushar district on the 10th and 11th of March. Reports from medical sources indicate that 22 people have been killed, including 12 children and ten women.
As many as 30 people have reportedly been injured, including 14 children. Some of the injured children have been sent to hospitals in Abs district and to the capital Sana'a for medical treatment, with some needing evacuation to survive.

· Thousands more civilians are thought to be trapped by the fighting, unable to flee to safety or get to areas where they can access food, water, medical treatment and other life-saving aid. Humanitarian organisations are struggling to access families near or across frontlines in Kushar and Aflah districts since the fighting escalated in late January.

· Airstrikes in Hajjah have risen significantly in recent month, from 38 in January to 51 in February - the highest number in the governorate since April 2018. Air raids in Amran governorate, just east of Hajjah, also rose. The increase in strikes has in both cases been accompanied by clashes on the ground between conflict parties.

· NRC has recorded more than 5,000 people newly displaced to Abs, from Mustaba and surrounding areas in Hajjah from Haradh, further north, and 3,700 families from Kushar. In the last six months, conflict has forced over 203,000 people to flee to safety in Hajjah, almost doubling the number of displaced people in the Governorate to 420,000. The UN reports that displaced people are now scattered across more than 300 settlements in the governorate.

· Violence also continues in areas bordering Sa'ada, close to the border with Saudi Arabia. Airstrikes and shelling incidents are reported in Haradh, Hayran and Midi Mustaba districts. Insecurity, coupled with a lack of permission from authorities to allow humanitarian workers to access the area, have prevented humanitarian organisations from getting help to people close to these front lines.

· Displaced families from Kushar and Haradh districts are reporting to NRC staff that they have been displaced multiple times over the last four years, and have again been forced to flee with the latest spike in fighting.

· Many of the displaced households arriving in Abs are headed by women. Newly displaced families report that they have been surviving on the generosity of displaced families already in the area, who are sharing their shelter, food and water, despite not having enough for themselves.

· NRC's team finds that many people displaced to Abs more than a month ago have yet to receive humanitarian assistance. Families reported a shortage of water to meet even their basic needs. Children were observed with white lips and are noticeably lethargic both signs of dehydration. Families also report significant medical issues including the presence of deadly diseases such as cholera, and malaria and diarrhoea. There are no medical facilities close by to treat these health conditions.

· Humanitarian agencies are facing major challenges in delivering aid to people. Restrictions imposed by authorities have slowed down the delivery of aid, and are preventing humanitarin organisations from scaling-up to deliver desperately needed support. These include delays in transporting goods from Sanaa and Hodeidah to Hajjah. Non Food Items and shelter kits have also been delayed pending clearance from authorities. As of 10 March, a lack of permissions has prevented the delivery of food to Abs and Kushar districts, affecting 61,600 people.

· Recent reports of major clashes between conflict parties in Hodeidah is a worrying sign that the Hodeidah agreement is faltering. Combat in the main frontlines in the city's east and south broke out in the last few days, including reports of exchanges of artillery fire.

· Hodeidah was one of the epicentres of the conflict from mid-2018 and saw the highest number of civilian casualties last year with 2,325 civilian casualties. A fragile ceasefire has been in place since 18 December. This significantly reduced the violence and air raids, with only 9 recorded air raids in the governorate since the establishment of the ceasefire, compared to a pre -ceasefire high of 103 air raids.

· Despite optimism about the Stockholm agreement, which offered the first glimpse of hope after years of conflict, there have been reports of regular breaches of the ceasefire, as well as a lack of progress on troop re-deployments from the city and port areas.

· Although the ceasefire has enabled some humanitarian agencies to return to Hodeidah city and access some areas in Hodeidah governorate that were inaccessible during last year's offensive, there has been limited progress addressing the humanitarian situation in Hodeidah and other parts of the country. The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains catastrophic with more than 24 million people in need of aid.

NRC is providing newly-displaced families in Hajjah with rations, and hygiene and dignity kits and continues to scale up its response. NRC is working across Yemen to address humanitarian needs despite security concerns, access restrictions and other bureaucratic impediments. We are working in 10 governorates to reach hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, through providing water and sanitation, protection, shelter, education and food and cash.