Mass famine in Yemen would affect millions of lives unless the Saudi-led coalition lifts its blockade of the country, the UN’s aid chief has warned. The Security Council has demanded aid be allowed to enter Yemen.
The Saudi-led military coalition’s blockade of Yemen could lead to “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims,” Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned on Wednesday.
Lowcock’s warning came as the UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the most recent escalation in the Yemen conflict after Saudi Arabia closed off all land, sea and air borders to the Arabian Peninsula country.
The blockade has also grounded all UN humanitarian flights into Yemen and prevented ships carrying urgent supplies, such as medicine and food, from docking.
The Saudi-led coalition has claimed that the blockade’s intention was to stop the flow of arms from Iran going to the Yemeni Houthi rebels the Saudis have been fighting since 2015. The decision to block off Yemen’s borders followed the interception of a missile, allegedly fired by Houthi rebels, toward the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Saturday.
UN Security Council demands aid be allowed into Yemen
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the UN Security Council demanded that Saudi Arabia open all borders into Yemen and allow humanitarian aid deliveries into the country.
Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, whose country holds the council presidency, told reporters that all council members, including Saudi Arabia’s US and British allies, expressed concern about the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen” and stressed “the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports and airports functioning.”
Lowcock also told reporters that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had held talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Wednesday, in which the UN head called for the immediate resumption of humanitarian access to Yemen.
Aid bodies stopped and turned away at the border
Relief organizations reported this week that they had been barred from delivering aid into Yemen. The International Committee of the Red Cross said its shipment of chlorine tablets, which combat the spread of cholera, was stopped at Yemen’s northern border on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the French medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported on Wednesday that it had been denied clearance for its flights into Yemen for the past three days.
“The broader impact of this blockade on the men, women and children of Yemen is already evident and it puts hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” MSF’s head of mission in Yemen, Justin Armstrong, said.
Yemen is almost completely dependent on imports of food, fuel and medicine. According to UN aid agencies, the blockade has seen a surge in the price of basic goods in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The UN estimates that some 17 million Yemenis are in urgent need of food, 7 million of whom are facing famine. The outbreak and spread of cholera in the country has reportedly infected nearly 900,000 and cost some 2,000 lives.
dm/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)