SANAA, Hudaydah's port is the principal lifeline for just under two-thirds of Yemen's population, which is almost totally reliant on imports of food, fuel and medicine.

Hodeidah is the second largest port in Yemen, and the only major port on the north-western coast. Yemen's dependence on imported goods is extremely high.

Even before the current conflict Yemen was highly food insecure, importing close to 90 percent of the food the population eats.

Hodeidah is the gateway for the majority of these imports and currently receives more than 70 percent of all the commercial and humanitarian goods arriving to the country � including food, fuel and medicine.

Even if the port itself is not attacked, a siege of the city will likely force the port to close and thus sever this lifeline, aid agencies have been clear that even a brief disruption in deliveries, or the inability to access their storage facilities in Hodeidah, will put the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk. Similarly, if commercial food deliveries to Hodeidah are interrupted, shortages and price spikes will ensue on the local market. In a country enduring economic collapse because of war, this would leave huge swathes of the population unable to buy food.

The country's arid climate is unforgiving for crops � the total domestic production of cereal crops only meets 20% of the country's needs, and given this need for imports, it is no exaggeration to say that whoever controls Hodeidah controls the country's future. Moreover, any damage to the port during a fight would have devastating consequences.

Hudaydah is a lifeline for people , serving as the most important point of entry for the basic supplies needed to prevent famine and a recurrence of a cholera epidemic that affected a million people .

More than 22 million Yemenis - three-quarters of the population - need some form of aid, and eight million do not know how they will obtain their next meal.

The latest violence in Hudaydah is likely to set back international efforts to bring an end to the ongoing conflict.

The UN has previously warned that in a worst-case scenario, the conflict could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cut off aid supplies to millions of people.

At least 6660 civilians have been killed and 10,560 injured in the fighting, according to the United Nations, thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.

Hudaydah's location also gave it great strategic importance.

To the west of the city is the Red Sea and major international shipping lanes that are used to move goods between Europe, Asia and Africa via the Suez Canal.

To the east is the fertile Tihama plain, Yemen's most important agricultural area.

The Soudi coalition launched a major air campaign that the UN says has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed critical infrastructure across Yemen, it also imposed a partial blockade, badly affecting supplies of food, fuel and medicines.

Basic services collapsed as a result, triggering the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Despite its importance to humanitarian operations, coalition warplanes have frequently bombed Hudaydah's port, in August 2015, air strikes disabled four giant mobile cranes, drastically slowing the unloading of food until they were replaced by the US - which supports the coalition - this January.

"A military attack or siege on Hudaydah will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians," Lise Grande warned. "In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives."

After the assault on Hudaydah began, Ms Grande reminded all parties to the conflict that under international humanitarian law they had to "do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive". "Right now, nothing is more important," she added.

The significance of Hodeidah to Yemen is difficult to overstate, and dread is rising over the human cost of the battle to come. More pain for Yemeni civilians will follow, the characteristic of a war that has created indescribable human suffering.

But if Hodeidah changes hands, analysts say, it could mark a turning point in the Yemen war, and possibly the beginning of the end.

Source: Yemen News Agency

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