After years of war Yemen is on the brink of catastrophe. Food and medical supplies are running low across the country. In the Houthi controlled areas and the nations medical infrastructure has been critically damaged by bombing from the Arab coalition and supplies cut off by the blockade.
Yemen was already on the brink of famine, but a few a weeks ago a new threat emerged: Cholera.
Transmitted through unpurified water. The disease causes severe dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea. In the west such a disease would be rare and relatively easy to contain, but in Yemen over half the population does not have access to clean drinking water, meaning the disease is spreading like plague.
The disease has already spread to tens of thousands and killed hundreds. Without adequate health infrastructure containment has failed. The fact that many Yemenis are already malnourished is no doubt exacerbating the deadliness of the disease. The result has been a four to five fold increase in the case mortality rate.
With a suspected 2,000 new cases a day, experts expect the disease could reach 300,000 cases in the next six months. If the math holds we can expect three to fifteen thousand fatalities from Cholera alone; more than those killed by the fighting itself.
With the food and medical food already a planned offensive against the port of Hodeidah is threatening to turn them in catastrophe. With malnutrition already rampant and many areas on the brink of famine, the planned offensive against the port of Hodeidah would threaten 70 to 80 percent of Yemen’s external trade, essentially cutting off food imports.
While the coalition claims the operation would only last for six weeks. A recent Vice article noted that this is wildly optimistic; and I agree.
Given the way the coalition has fought I see no evidence that they are capable of quickly capturing a complex urban environment or being able to avoid destroying vital port infrastructure necessary to keep Yemen from famine.
Such operations are possible. In World War II the allies captured the French Port of Brest in a similar time-frame and Cherbourge in half that duration. Before that, in 1940 the Wehrmacht secured several french ports as part of it’s thrust to cut off French and British forces. If an assault is coordinated well in both the operational and strategic sense, a port can be taken in a matter of days.
In the case of Yemen the circumstances are much different. Such an operation would require land based maneuver forces to land around the port or come in from the North from the coastal plain. The mechanized forces would then have to surround to port and quickly reduce the pocket in a series of coordinated combined arms assaults. Essentially they would have to fight like a modern western marine or army corps, not a slow moving tactically and operationally inept Arab army.
This is not purely conjecture; we already have a data point to work from. The battle to recapture the port of Aden in 2015 took nearly 4 months and the coalition still has not made much headway into the Houthi heartland. The idea they could launch a seaborne direct assault against a port and take without knocking it out for an extended period is fanciful.
There was a time not long ago when I did support a new American backed offensive against the Houthis to gain leverage over them and restore security to the Mandeb Al-Bab strait. That time has passed. The situation is so fragile that an intensification of the fighting could lead to the deaths of tens of thousands by disease and starvation.
In Hodeidah we must find another way. If we don’t the bodies could start to pile up very fast.