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Mass Flooding Exacerbates Hardships of War in Yemen

Heavy rain and flash floods have added to the problems caused by Yemen's civil war. Despite the current truce, the humanitarian situation remains dire, and the next catastrophe might be already looming off the coast.

The UNESCO World Heritage site of the Old City in Sanaa was heavily affected by the rain and floods

Compounding the misery from a heat wave in June and storms in July, torrential rain and severe floods caused the deaths of at least 38 people across Yemen just this week, domestic and international media have reported.

In Sanaa's historic Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at least 10 iconic 500-year-old buildings have collapsed, about 80 inhabited houses were destroyed and hundreds of tents housing internally displaced people were swept away in the torrents.

On Wednesday night, the family home of Ali Mohammad Hassan Al-Mazjaji in the city of Al-Khokha collapsed. "Before the rescuers managed to reach us, we waited on top of the ruins of our house in the pouring rain until the morning," the 50-year-old father of five told DW.

Vehicles on a flooded street after heavy rain in Sanaa, Yemen

Following a heat wave in June, Yemen has been hit hard by torrential rain

Youssef Al-Ghalisi, another resident of Al-Khokha, said the floods had taken out the tents in a nearby camp for internally displaced people. "The water was much louder than the screams of the children," he said, still shocked.

The weather forecast has improved, and the rain is projected to stop at times over this weekend.

"These floods have exacerbated the already-dire humanitarian situation of millions of Yemeni people," said Basheer Al-Selwi, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen.

In fact, following eight years of war between the Iran-backed Houthi militia and the Saudi-backed internationally recognized government — a conflict that is widely considered a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia — the vast majority of Yemenis require international aid and the country is on the brink of famine.

The situation has been further exacerbated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Up until February, Yemen used to import up to 45% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.

Map of Yemen in the context of the region with major flood-hit cities highlighted

'Brink of collapse'

Following the initial cease-fire which started ahead of Ramadan this year, the truce was again renewed in early August until October 2. 

 "But aside from the drop of war casualties, citizens keep telling me that nothing has changed. There are still civilian casualties in Taiz due to random shelling by the Houthi group, and landmines and unexploded artillery keep claiming the lives of children," Abdulghani Al-Iryani, senior researcher at the Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies, told DW.

The roadblock of Taiz, a city and an area of 4.5 million people, has turned into a deadlock.

Though opening this roadblock is key to the cease-fire brokered by the UN's special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, the Houthis say that as long as the Saudi-backed government continues to limit access to the Houthi-controlled airport in the capital, Sanaa, and the port of Hodeidah, the roadblock will remain in place.

According to the humanitarian aid organization Save the Children, the last week of July saw new violence, with 38 children killed or injured despite the truce. This is the highest number of child casualties in one week since early 2020.

"Also, essential services are on the brink of collapse," said ICRC spokesperson Al-Selwi, adding that meanwhile only half of the health care facilities are estimated to be functional.

As a consequence of the ongoing conflict and accompanying economic crisis, Yemen is facing the largest food emergency in the world.

According to several humanitarian aid organizations, approximately 16.2 million people — about 70% of Yemen's population — are experiencing crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse. Particularly vulnerable are 4.7 million children and women who are acutely malnourished.

 A Yemeni baby receives treatment at a hospital

Malnutrition and a lack of health facilities have worsened the humanitarian crisis

'Severe environmental damage'

Following the capture of Sanaa and other cities by the Houthi militia in 2014, Yemen remains divided into the north, which is controlled by the Houthis, and the rest of the country, under the control of the Saudi-backed government. Yemen's politics remain volatile after the introduction of the Presidential Leadership Council in April.

The previous president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, had handed over his duties to the leadership council, the PLC, which is headed by former Interior Minister Rashad al-Alimi. 

"The political situation is stable on the Houthi side, with their clear command lines. People are angry, but cannot act on that anger for fear of harsh police control," said researcher Al-Iryani.

He added that the recent fighting in the southern oil-rich Shabwa region, which led to about 30 casualties this week, has contributed to the split in the anti-Houthi coalition, which consists of groups that are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood-connected Al-Islah group and other parties that support the Saudi-led coalition.

"This could make it harder for the PLC to start preparing peace negotiations that could last for good," Al-Iryani said.

The current regional tour by Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy to Yemen, couldn't have started at a better time.

Lenderking's top priorities are boosting the peace process and rallying groups to work together ahead of a looming ecological disaster. The disused Safer oil tanker is in danger of breaking up and leaking more than 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea.

"An oil spill would exacerbate the world's worst humanitarian crisis, cause severe environmental damage, and impact global shipping and other economic activity," Lenderking's office said in a statement.

According to his office, urgent action is required to avoid that scenario. "With about $14 million (€13,6 million) unfunded and an UN-Houthi agreement to offload the oil to a temporary vessel, we are the closest we have ever been to addressing the threat posed by this derelict tanker," the statement read.

Safia Mahdi in Yemen contributed to this article

Edited by: Milan Gagnon

Courtesy: DW

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