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Yemen Briefing: Offensive towards Hodeida

Download: Yemen briefing: offensive towards hodeida (pdf)

Latest Information on the Offensive

  • Anti-Houthi forces, backed by the Saudi and Emirati-led Coalition (SEC) are reportedly only 20 km away from Hodeida city, with clashes also taking place around the airport, which is just 6 km south of the city. This attack comes despite claims by the US, UK and other government representatives that they have received confirmation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia that they will not attack the port or the city. 
  • Fighting has moved northwards rapidly over the past ten days and advanced much quicker than expected. Since the beginning of May, fighters backed by the UAE have advanced 100km, heading north towards Hodeida.
  • The impact will fall hardest on children. Over two million under-5s across the country are already suffering from acute malnutrition – in the event of a sustained attack on Hodeida, which is a lifeline for the north of the country, we would expect this number to increase and for some of the most food insecure areas to be pushed into famine. Hodeida’s children are already some of the hardest hit by the conflict –the area is at IPC level 4, the food security level before famine. In the event of an attack on the port and subsequent increase in displacement and cut in the availability of food, the number of children dying of hunger-related causes is likely to rise.

Importance of Hodeida

  • There are no viable alternatives to keeping Hodeida port open.
  • Hodeida port is a key port for the country as around 70-80% of all commercial imports reached Yemen through Hodeida prior to the war. This is crucial for a country that is importing up to 90% of its staple food. It is also the only sea port that serves the northern governorates where about 70% of Yemen’s population live, and that are largely controlled by the Houthis.
  • Aden port handles about 20% of overall imports and is currently working at its maximum capacity. Saleef port is only used for smaller cargoes while Mukalla port has a very limited capacity and primarily handles small vessels.

Impact on the Ongoing Humanitarian Disaster in Yemen

  • Yemen is experiencing multiple humanitarian disasters simultaneously due to conflict and blockade.
  • An intensification of the conflict in Hodeida could lead to large-scale displacement of up to half a million people, according to UNHCR, and exacerbate the humanitarian situation further. This would be the largest incidence of mass displacement recorded since the conflict began in 2015.
  • About 100,000 people have been displaced in recent months due to fighting, mostly from Hodeida governorate, especially from Zabid, al-Jarrahi, Hays and al-Khoukha to Aden.
  • Some of those who stayed behind could not afford the cost of fleeing the fighting. Those who did often had to sell belongings such as jewelry, land and livestock. This means that those who stay behind are likely to be among the most vulnerable already, on whom the escalation of conflict will have a devastating impact.

Impact on the Peace Process

  • Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has told Parliament: ‘the only answer is for the work of the United Nations envoy, Martin Griffiths, to be successful through negotiations’, while Martin Griffiths himself has said that an assault on the city would ‘in a single stroke, take peace off the table’. The new UN Special Envoy (UNSE) Martin Griffiths’ plans to reinvigorate the peace process and is expected to present his ‘roadmap’ for peace to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on 18th June 2018.
  • Despite positive signals from all parties earlier this year, and recent reports about the willingness of the Houthis to engage in new talks, the current rapid advancement of anti-Houthi armed forces with strong support from the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition along the West coast towards Hodeida signal that the coalition currently is focused on military objectives over political talks.
  • An attack on Hodeida port, the main port in the territories under Houthi-control, constitutes a red line for the Houthis, and represents an existential threat to them. They have threatened to disrupt commercial shipping lines through the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab in retaliation to any military action. Such action is expected to increase the risk of further regional military escalation.


  • The UK Government must make clear to the SEC that a military assault on Hodeida port is a redline for continued UK support. This is particularly acute for Saudi Arabia, which is directing the air war, and for the UAE, which is driving the ground offensive.
  • Save the Children urges the UK Government to use its leadership and influence to ensure the SEC spare the Yemeni people from any further fighting, and to facilitate all imports of food, fuel and medicines in order to prevent a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.
  • We call on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under IHL and to take all feasible precautions to protect children and their families and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, from the impact of hostilities. All parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians can safely escape active areas of conflict, and that humanitarian access to civilians, and refrain from depriving civilians of basic necessities such as food, water and medical supplies.
  • There is no military solution to this conflict. Only a political solution is likely to bring the war to an end and reinstate peace in Yemen. Therefore, we urge all parties to return to the negotiation table and cooperate with UNSE Martin Griffith.


  • SEC planned to launch an offensive on Hodeida last year, but these were suspended after strong international pressure, in particular from the UK. The renewed advance this year comes after the death of former Houthi ally Ali Abdullah Saleh, intensified tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and an increase of cross-border missile attacks from northern Yemen to Saudi Arabia.
  • Subsequently, and in response to missile attacks into Saudi Arabia in November 2017, the SEC launched a formal blockade on Hodeida and other ports. In response the UK Government increased pressure on the SEC to announce a lift in restrictions on commercial and humanitarian imports, resulting in a limited, but positive increase in goods entering Yemen.
  • Since December 2017, a ‘de-facto’ blockade has been in place. For example, no container-based cargo – by far the most efficient way of moving goods - was imported between December 2017 and 26 May 2018.
  • In April 2018, commercial food and fuel imports into the Red Sea ports declined 22% and 12% from March. Just above half (177,279 MT) of the monthly food requirements (350,000 MT) reached the country (via Hodeida and Saleef), and less than a third (144,713 MT) of the monthly fuel requirements (544,000 MT).
  • Currently there are no commercial companies reaching Hodeida, as the long inspection processes by United Nations Verification Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) and additional inspections by the SEC have increased shipping costs significantly. Delays in getting clearance and the uncertainty about the length of this process, together with the limited capacity of the port due to the effects of the war have deterred commercial shipping companies. Furthermore, with fears that the port may be attacked very shortly commercial companies are increasingly concerned about sending ships into what may very soon be a warzone.