The Importance of Yemen's Ports

April 26, 2021

Photo from Port of Aden. | Photo Credits: UNDPYemen/2020

Yemen, 26 April 2021 -
Today a key report, Damage and Capacity Assessment: Port of Aden and Port of Mukalla, was released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen that outlines urgent capacity and infrastructure needs of the Ports in Aden and Mukalla to help keep the world's potentially largest famine in 40 years at bay.

Working within a unique public-private partnership, and with the Yemeni Port Authorities, the report presents agreed-upon and achievable solutions to a variety of issues unearthed during a recent assessment. With financial and capacity development support, the solutions will allow the ports to regain the swift, efficient productivity of years past.

With approximately 90 per cent of Yemen’s food imported through the nation’s poorly maintained, war-damaged ports, there are long delivery delays and rising costs. As food, fuel, and medicine becomes increasingly expensive and less obtainable for the average Yemeni, the threat of famine grows into an increasing reality for millions.

The UN currently predicts that over 16 million Yemenis will face hunger this year – more than half of the population – while nearly 50,000 are already starving in famine-like conditions. This is not due to a lack of food, but because the high cost of imported products is driving up market prices, making the readily available food unaffordable for the average Yemeni.

Between November and December 2020, UNDP welcomed experts from the Port of Rotterdam and Solid Port Solutions to undertake the damage and capacity assessments in the Ports of Aden and Mukalla. With financial support from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), experts spent two weeks visiting the Port Authorities and onsite locations to understand and outline the existing operational challenges.

Resulting from a historic lack of maintenance and under resourcing, and worsened by the on-going conflict, issues included the absence of overarching strategic plans; restricted access to critical equipment, infrastructure, and spare parts; limited preventative and corrective maintenance; lack of training and staff capacity building; and high war risk insurance premiums that are directly transferred to the cost of food. The findings are in line with those of a similar 2019 report of the ports of Hodeidah, Ras Issa, and Salif.

“Fifty percent of the cost price of a kilogram of wheat is made up of transport related cost such as shipping cost, insurance cost, and demurrage cost. The current inspections regime double the cost of transporting every container because they are offloaded before inspection and put on another ship before coming to Yemen,” explains Auke Lootsma, UNDP Yemen Resident Representative. “In addition, shipping companies are charged war risk insurance premiums that are 16 times higher than if they would be for any other location.”

“This assessment provides expert recommendations that will be critical for realizing future investments. Immediate intervention could ensure ports remain functioning, or even function better, to ensure vital commercial and humanitarian supplies reach Yemenis; helping reduce the number of people exposed to hunger, famine, and humanitarian challenges,” explains Peter-Derrek Hof, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Republic of Yemen.

The assessment is a result of a unique partnership between UNDP, The Kingdom of the Netherlands through The Netherlands Enterprise Agency, and the Port of Rotterdam to support the Port Authorities to establish short, medium, and long term priorities that will help reduce the cost of conducting business in Yemen.

“If the basic infrastructure in any country is insufficient, then it is not feasible to bring the needed food, humanitarian aid, and construction materials necessary to rebuild after protracted conflict in a reliable, cost efficient, and trustworthy manner. We hope that the assessment will contribute to facilitate the rebuild of the necessary infrastructure,'' says Allard Castelein, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Rotterdam.

With greater investment in training and capacity, Yemen’s ports could better manage an increasing number of ships – contributing to reduced costs and ultimately increasing access to basic commodities for all Yemenis. If this is realized, the peace building process could be prioritized to ensure a brighter future for all Yemenis.

"If the port infrastructure is repaired and improved, and waiting times reduced for vessels, it could have a huge impact to alleviate the humanitarian crisis," says Tjerk Opmeer, Director of International at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

“I think with the help of UNDP and the International Community investing in the port, its maintenance, its infrastructure, we can really make a huge contribution to the famine response in Yemen. With these investments we can lower the cost of food coming into the country and therefore making food affordable for Yemenis,” concludes Auke Lootsma, UNDP Yemen Resident Representative.

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