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Aid groups under attack in Yemen as specter of famine looms

Yemen, Near Sa'ada, Majaz health centre supported by the ICRC, women’s section. This is the main centre supported by the ICRC in the north of Yemen. (ICRC / C. Martin-Chico)

A violent attack on its office forced the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend its activities in the Yemeni city of Aden. It is the latest pressure on humanitarian groups struggling to provide assistance in a country that may be on the brink of famine.

“This is not the first time that we have had a security incident in Aden,” said the ICRC’s head of sub-delegation in the city, Samer Jarjouhi, in a release. “This is not acceptable and we have relocated staff until the situation improves.”

The attackers, armed with guns, stormed the ICRC office in Aden on Monday. Staff were held at gunpoint while the assailants stole money, cars and equipment from the office. No injuries were suffered during the incident. The ICRC says it relocated 14 staff from Aden.

A spokesperson told Agence France-Presse that the ICRC will continue providing humanitarian assistance in other parts of Yemen. Aden remains fragile in the month since government forces regained control from rebels. Monday’s attack was least the 10th incident experienced by the aid group in the embattled country. A rocket attack last week on Aden Gov. Nayef al-Bakri killed four and wounded 20 people.

Aid groups struggle to provide assistance in Yemen due to the insecurity. The lack of access and inability to provide proper support make it harder to alleviate the growing humanitarian problem in Yemen. The World Food Program issued a warning last week that the country is headed toward famine if things do not get better.


(Credit: OCHA)

“Right now, the conflict-driven convergence between the lack of staple food, access to clean water and a diminished fuel supply create the dawn of a perfect storm for the most vulnerable Yemeni people,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin in a news release. “The disruption in the commercial food sector creates significant reductions in imports which causes an inflationary effect on market prices for food and other basic commodities.”

Cousin visited three Yemeni cities – including Aden – prior to issuing the comments. The U.N. agency estimates 1.2 million children are already suffering from moderate acute malnutrition. That is in addition to the more than 500,000 who face severe acute malnutrition. Money, as always, is in short supply for the response, but security is a major obstacle.

Lack of food security is worst in the areas of Yemen where conflict is worst. It is well known that famines are not caused by weather alone, but forces – such as war – that prevent food from reaching people and families earning incomes to pay for what little food is available. The factors that contribute to famine are playing out in Yemen – and concerns are growing.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]