Persistent fuel shortages undercut humanitarian operations and exacerbate humanitarian needs
Yemen’s northern governorates have been contending with crippling fuel shortages since June 2020, following a dispute over the use of revenue from fuel imports between the Government of Yemen and the de facto authorities in Sana’a. Shortages have deepened since January 2021, leaving the population struggling to access essential services and impacting aid partners’ ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to people in need.
In the meantime, people in northern governorates have become increasingly dependent on the fuel supplies made available through the informal market – usually smuggled from areas under the control of the Government of Yemen in the south – with fuel prices doubling or even tripling in some areas, which has contributed to increases in food and water prices, further eroding families’ purchasing power and exacerbating humanitarian needs.
In January 2021, only four commercial fuel tankers discharged their fuel cargo of 80,854 metric tonnes (MTs) in Al Hodeidah. No fuel vessels were permitted to enter Al Hodeidah port in February despite all fuel vessels being inspected and cleared by the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM). As of 29 March, one commercial fuel vessel discharged 3,705 MTs of fuel for WFP and four UNVIMcleared commercial fuel tankers with a combined cargo of 72,295 MTs had entered Al Hodeidah port and were in the process of discharging their cargo. Another ten UNVIM-cleared vessels with a combined cargo of 237,519 MTs of fuel remain held in the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) holding area, awaiting permission from the Government of Yemen to enter. These vessels have been waiting for clearance for an average of 72 days, further increasing costs that will be passed on to Yemeni consumers.
In a precedent not seen since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, no commercial fuel imports entered Al Hodeidah port for 52 days-from 28 January to 21 March 2021. This is an alarming development, considering that more than half of Yemen’s commercial fuel imports had been coming through Al Hodeidah in recent years.
Field reports indicate that fuel shortages are impacting commercial activity, including the transport of food to markets, and threaten to undercut the availability of clean water as fuel-powered water pumps run out of fuel. Aid partners report that the price of water has increased across northern governorates – by up to 50 per cent in Hajjah and Al Hodeidah, for example – risking an increase of diseases such as Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) or cholera.
Humanitarian operations are also being impacted by the limited availability of fuel, according to reports from aid partners. WFP reports that transporters it contracted to deliver food assistance are facing delays of between three and four days in some districts due to the limited availability of fuel.
Nutrition Cluster partners report that outpatient therapeutic feeding, targeted supplementary feeding and blanket supplementary feeding programmes have been affected by fuel shortages. In addition, 619 nutrition sites have been impacted, affecting 38,655 children under five and pregnant and lactating women. Partners warn that an additional 867 nutrition sites will soon be impacted, affecting an estimated 138,981 children under five and pregnant and lactating women. Meanwhile, Shelter Cluster partners report that the limited availability of fuel has impacted assistance distribution activities, needs assessments, transport of supplies and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of transitional shelters, affecting 17,760 families in Sana’a and Ta’iz governorates alone.
Protection Cluster partners have reported a reduction in protection activities, including the provision of psychosocial support and legal aid and the conduct of needs assessments. Partners have resorted to relying on mobile clinics to visit beneficiaries who cannot afford the transportation costs to visit community centres. Overall, protection partners estimate that limited fuel availability had impacted the provision of services to 10,500 families in Ibb, Ta’iz and Sa’dah governorates.
Evidence is also emerging that fuel shortages are impacting WASH support activities, affecting the delivery of assistance to some three million people across northern governorates. Partners report that some water delivery and sanitation projects have been suspended, with cleaning activities and assessment and monitoring activities also impacted.
Almost all health facilities – which rely on fuel to power their electricity generators – have been affected by the limited availability of fuel. Field reports indicate that some health facilities in Ibb, Sana’a, and Sa’dah governorates face an imminent risk of being forced to suspend health services due to lack of fuel. Meanwhile, the people who most need aid cannot afford the increased transportation costs to seek treatment in health facilities.