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Fighting In Yemen Port City Threatens Aid Shipments


Diplomacy has so far failed in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah. A Saudi-led coalition has attacked that city, which is vital for getting aid shipments into the country. This appears to be the next phase in a three-year conflict that is in many ways a proxy war. On one side, you have Saudi Arabia and its partners - They're supported by the United States - on the other, Houthi rebels backed by Iran. And it's the U.S.-aligned coalition targeting this port city right now. And I want to bring in an official with the U.N. who is in Yemen. Lise Grande is the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. She's in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Thanks for coming on the program and taking the time this morning.


LISE GRANDE: Thank you so much for reaching out.

GREENE: What are you hearing about Hodeidah? How bad are things there right now?

GRANDE: Both yesterday and today, there has been intense aerial bombardment and naval shelling. And ground forces have been moving through the southern districts of Hodeidah, headed toward the Hodeidah Airport. There are also snipers, foot patrols and checkpoints all throughout the city. Most of the civilians are in their homes. We know that before the attack started, families were stockpiling food and water and the other things that they need in order to survive.

GREENE: Well, when we spoke last, there were some U.N. staffers who the U.N. was actually removing from the city because of the dangerous conditions. Is the U.N. still there to help make sure civilians have the supplies that they need?

GRANDE: We have dozens of U.N. staff who are on the ground delivering programs. International staff are returning to Hodeidah. We're going to be doing everything we have to to make sure that the people who need assistance receive what they require. Yesterday, while the city was under attack, the World Food Program docked a vessel and was offloading food. There are two more vessels that are off the port that we will be bringing in in the next days. And we are going to continue to bring food to the city.


We are also delivering water. We're providing health care. We're helping to fight cholera. We're doing everything we can to make sure that the civilians who are in that city receive what they need.

GREENE: It sounds like that port is so important, not just to the city but to the entire country. Even as this Saudi coalition carries out the attacks, do you get the sense that both sides of this conflict recognize how important it is to keep that port open?

GRANDE: You know, yesterday, during the shelling and the bombardment, the port was not touched. And that's really important. If that port closes, even for just a few days, the impact on the population of northern Yemen could be catastrophic.

Everything has to be done to keep that port open. If it closes, even for just a few days, the impact could be catastrophic. We have confidence that the parties to the conflict know that and that they are committed to doing what is required to keep the port operational.

GREENE: And just in the few seconds we have left, can you just give our listeners a sense broadly of what's at stake here?

GRANDE: You know, right now, three-quarters of the entire population of Yemen require some form of humanitarian assistance. There's no other country in the world where that percentage of the population needs help. Twenty-two million people in Yemen depend on humanitarian assistance. If we can't provide what they need, they're going to be in terrible trouble. We have to keep the port open. We have to make sure that people get the supplies that they need. This is why Hodeidah is so central to everything that is happening in Yemen.

GREENE: OK. Speaking this morning to Lise Grande - she is a U.N. official in Yemen, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen about the attack that is being carried out right now on the incredibly important port city of Hodeidah. Thanks so much for taking the time. I know it's a very busy moment for you.

GRANDE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.