UNHCR is preparing for a possible fresh wave of displacement from Hudaydah, Yemen as families resort to begging to ward off starvation.

When the fighting reached his doorstep last year in the city of Hajjah, 130 kilometres northwest of Yemen’s capital Sana’a, Mohammed Saeed and his four children fled to the neighbouring Hudaydah governorate in search of safety.

The 60-year-old former electrical engineer had brought his children up alone since the death of his wife before the outbreak of conflict in 2015. But while they were able to escape the bullets and bombs, the terrible hardship that accompanied their forced displacement was to have tragic consequences for his youngest son, aged just 10.

“Because of the situation, I lost one of my children to malnutrition,” Mohammed explained. “We just don’t have enough to eat. Sometimes we have food and sometimes we don’t. We are very poor, we have no means to support ourselves and we just depend on whatever we get from humanitarian organizations.”

“I lost one of my children to malnutrition.”

UNHCR field staff visit a disused building that has been turned into a collective centre hosting 20 displaced families© UNHCR/Shabia Mantoo

Fatima Jaish Ali and her family are among millions of Yemenis facing hardship and hunger.  © UNHCR/Shabia Mantoo

Mohammed’s plight is sadly all too common in a country where two million people are currently displaced and 17 million are considered food insecure as a result of the conflict, now in its third year.

Hudaydah is currently host to more than 109,000 displaced Yemenis, who along with the conflict-affected local population are said to be facing critical levels of food insecurity.

Amid warnings of a possible intensification of fighting in Hudaydah itself, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, recently warned that up to half a million people could be displaced by an increase in hostilities there. In response, the agency is leading efforts with humanitarian partners to respond to any fresh displacement.

UNHCR is pre-positioning supplies to be able to respond in the event of mass displacement and will help establish humanitarian hubs along major displacement routes to offer respite to people fleeing violence, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, May 16.

It will also provide mobile core relief kits, protection services, emergency shelter and household assistance at the final destinations of the displaced, in the form of shelter materials, vouchers, financial assistance or cash subsidies for rent, depending on needs.

Fatima, a 35-year-old mother of five from Hajjah, fled to Hudaydah shortly after the start of the conflict in early 2015. Their escape followed an explosion near their home that left Fatima badly burned, and she still suffers severe pain from her injuries as a result of not being able to afford proper medical treatment.

With Fatima’s husband – a former construction worker – unable to find work in Hudaydah, they are currently living in an unused building with 20 other families, and have had to resort to scavenging food from restaurants and sending their children to beg in the streets just to survive.

Many of those displaced in Hudaydah like Fatima are anxious about possible intensifications in hostilities, unsure of how and where they would flee.

“We are scared by the situation but what are we supposed to do?,” Fatima asked. “Even where we live now, a bomb fell near our building. We are very afraid.”

With UNHCR’s humanitarian supplies at critically low levels, the agency has appealed for US$99.6 million in order to respond to current and anticipated displacement in Yemen, but has so far received less than a quarter of the requested amount.

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