MARIB, Yemen – In his eighties, Mohammed Hadi al-Harmali has been uprooted four times by shifting frontlines during the seven years of Yemen’s brutal civil war.
Out of money and bedridden with a spinal problem, he is now confined to a tent in a makeshift camp outside Marib city, the last northern stronghold of pro-government forces and where a growing wave of humanity has sought refuge from advancing Houthi troops.
“Winter has come and we have children, large families, poor families. They need blankets, mattresses, shelters and ways to keep warm,” he told Reuters.
“I don’t have the money for the treatment (for my spine) … and there’s no one to borrow from anymore.”
Al-Harmali, who has been in the al-Suwaida camp east of the city since May last year, is among the almost one million people estimated to have been displaced from elsewhere in Yemen who now form part of Marib’s three million population.
Some 80% are women and children, a group of aid agencies said this week, forced towards the city as the Iran-aligned Houthi forces press for full control of one of the country’s main energy-producing regions.
“Humanitarian needs in Marib city far outstrip current humanitarian capacity on the ground,” said the group of agencies, including Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Save the Children.
Abdelhamid Ali Mothana, a doctor at a nearby hospital, warned of winter outbreaks of flu and COVID-19, fuelled by the camps’ unsanitary conditions, and urged aid organisations and other countries to offer the displaced more support.
“Demand is high and the hospital has poor resources to treat patients,” he said.
Should Marib governorate fall on what is now the war’s key battleground, it would deal a blow to the pro-government military coalition led by Saudi Arabia that has been fighting the Houthis since 2014, and to United Nations-led peace efforts.
Trenches, sand bags and land mines are in place to defend Marib City, though it is as yet unclear if the Houthis will launch a direct assault there or move to take the nearby oil and gas facilities and besiege the city instead.
Either way, with each Houthi military advance, more internal refugees are forced to move.
Marib’s authority for displacement camps on Wednesday said more than 15,000 people were forced to flee in a few days by approaching fighting in the governorate’s west – the third time many had been moved.
Marib lies east of the capital Sanaa, which the Houthis seized along with most of north Yemen in 2014 when they ousted the Saudi-backed government, prompting coalition intervention.
The United Nations and United States have struggled to engineer a truce needed to revive talks to end a war that has left millions short of food and many close to starvation.
Halting the Houthis’ Marib offensive will be the focus of talks that U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking will hold with Yemeni government and civil society representatives on Thursday, the State Department said.