The Yemenis rejoiced at the humanitarian truce announced by the UN envoy to Yemen, Hans Grodenberg, last Friday, which included allowing fuel tankers to enter Hodeidah port and allowing two commercial flights per week through Sana’a International Airport, to predetermined destinations, for two months, starting from April 2 to June 2.
The entry of fuel through the port of Hodeidah, and the opening of the airport for a limited number of flights, would alleviate very little suffering experienced by 80% of Yemenis during the years of the siege.
The question that has emerged, since the truce entered its first day, is to what extent the terms of this truce, in its humanitarian aspect, can contribute to alleviating the suffering of Yemenis who have been under siege for years.
During the years of the siege, the suffering of Yemenis worsened at the economic and living aspects, and they incurred great losses as a result of the lack of fuel and its high prices, and consequently the rise in the prices of all goods and services, whether due to the high costs of transportation for goods and imports that represent 90% of the country’s needs, or high production costs.
Under the title "The Silent Killer: The Siege of Yemen", an investigative report revealed the catastrophic effects of the blockade imposed by the US-Saudi aggression on the entry of basic imports, especially fuel, through the port of Hodeidah, which is the main artery of basic supplies to which a life depends. Approximately 80% of the population is in Yemen.
The report was prepared by Richard Medhurst, with the assistance of Yemeni economist Amir Althibah, an Oxford graduate who has worked as an economist at the World Bank for more than a decade and has more than 20 years of experience working in country and international development.
The report reveals “the shocking extent of the Saudi-led blockade on Yemen. Fuel shortages have led Yemen's inflation to skyrocket 40%, deepening the world's worst humanitarian crisis”.
It pointed to the catastrophic results of the war that the Saudi-led coalition began in March 2015, as Yemen has become one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, 17.4 million people (the majority of the population) suffer from food insecurity, while 20 million people live in extreme poverty, according to UNICEF.
“During the rare occasions when the war in Yemen is discussed, people and media outlets mostly talk about the bombings or the famine. There is, however, another major aspect to the war that no one talks about; a silent killer that is just as bad if not worse than the bombs: the blockade,” it added.
The Saudi-led siege on Yemen prevents fuel ships from docking in the port of Hodeida, causing further damage that ripples through Yemen’s economy.
The fuel shortages and prices are so high that Yemenis cannot afford cooking gas, electricity, medicine, and the country’s inflation has skyrocketed. One of the poorest countries on earth is being forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars extra for fuel— for absolutely no reason.
All over the world people are experiencing rises in fuel prices. Many Americans have expressed dissatisfaction with having to pay US$4 per gallon at the pump.
Currently, the blockade forces Yemenis to pay almost $9.5 per gallon ($2.5 for one liter of gasoline). This is significantly higher than what the richest nations pay for the same commodity.
The Saudi coalition claims there is no embargo on Yemen; that Yemenis are free to import food, fuel and all sorts of commodities. But the part that they leave out is that they’re not allowing imported fuel to reach the port of Hodeidah or local markets.
This report seeks to explain in fine detail exactly how the siege functions, where the additional costs come from, who is profiting from the blockade, and how it amounts to economic warfare, impacting the people that are already suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Any ship wishing to enter Yemen must first get permission from the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM). Ships headed to Yemen must stop in Djibouti where their cargo, place of origin, and source of funding are inspected. Once inspection and verification are completed, vessels are issued a clearance certificate by the UN.
Despite being inspected and granted a clearance permit from the UN, once fuel ships attempt to dock at the port of Hodeidah in Yemen, they are intercepted by the Saudi-coalition navy, which reroutes them to the so-called “Coalition Holding Area”, located in the Red Sea, near the coast of the Saudi city, Jizan.
In the shipping industry, when a vessel fails to discharge its cargo, the owner of the chartered ship can charge a fine. This is known as a demurrage cost. By detaining the ships indefinitely, for months on end, their demurrage fines increase dramatically.
In 2020, UN-cleared ships going to Hodeida were detained by the Saudi coalition for a total of 4683 days. These ships paid 85 million dollars in demurrage fines— costs that are passed on to the consumers in Yemen. In 2020, each ship coming through Hodeida paid $1.2 million in demurrage fines, on average. That number increased by 164 percent the following year, to $3.2 million per vessel.
Since 2021, the blockade has intensified, resulting in even higher fines and fuel prices. These are vessels meant for public consumption, meaning once again, that Yemenis are the ones who end up paying these costs at the fuel pump.
In 2021, ships headed to Hodeida, carrying fuel for public consumption, were detained on average for 158 days. Each vessel, on average, paid $3.2 million dollars in demurrage fines.
These long periods of detention mean the price of fuel on board increases dramatically (due to higher demurrage costs) and the lack of fuel triggers shortages, leading to higher prices for all products and services in Yemen.
For ships that are unwilling to make the journey to Hodeida and risk being detained indefinitely, the alternative is to import fuel through non-embargoed ports such as Aden or Mukalla. These ports are under the control of the Saudi-backed government.
This poses several problems. The first is that these ports are located far away from Sana’a and the areas where most Yemenis live. This means that fuel trucks must travel greater distances, which increases transportation and breakage costs.
Under normal circumstances, anyone importing fuel to Sana’a would never go through Aden or Mukalla because it makes no sense. They would likely go through Hodeida, because it is Yemen’s largest port and the country’s lifeline. Hodeidah is close to the capital and near the bulk (80 percent) of Yemen’s population.
Ports like Aden and Mukalla are more expensive than Hodeidah. Anyone attempting to import fuel through there is slapped with higher taxes and arbitrary fees. This includes a large list of things such as: customs fees, commissions to the refineries, security fees, intermediary office fees, higher transport costs, transport damages…
Fuel trucks have to take an enormous detour that extends up to 1300km (highlighted in yellow). In comparison, the journey from Hodeidah to Sana’a, would be just 226km (in green).
Along this alternative route, trucks are stopped by various Saudi-UAE backed armed groups, including Al Qaeda, who set up random roadblocks. When the fuel trucks try to pass, the militias shake them down for money. If the drivers don’t pay, they may be killed. This money often goes towards financing terrorism and prolonging the conflict.
Based on this evidence, it is clear that the siege on Yemen is a very effective means of economic warfare.
The fuel shortages not only cause the price of fuel itself to rise, but affect everything else that depends on fuel, from food to hospitals, farming, and industry.
While most people might think that Yemenis are dying primarily from bombs, it is actually the blockade and famine that are primarily responsible for the loss of life and economic destruction.
Source: Richard Medhurst’s Newsletter