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UN calls on Saudi coalition to open Yemeni seaports as it warns of world’s largest famine

24th Nov 2017
UN calls on Saudi coalition to open Yemeni seaports as it warns of world’s largest famine

More than two million children in Yemen are acutely malnourished, like Salem who is 13 months old and weighs only ten and a half pounds. The family is from Algaflah District far from the main hospital in Amran Governorate. They, like other families, struggle to afford the transport costs to get them there. (Photo: Islamic Relief)

Nadine Osman

The United Nations has called on the Saudi-led coalition to open all of Yemen’s ports to allow humanitarian aid through.

Speaking on November 14, UN Yemen Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, said, “We would ask that the coalition opens all the seaports as a matter of emergency and allows humanitarian and other supplies to move as well as aid workers.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recorded at least 2,200 cholera-related deaths since April 27, according to a WHO report released on November 15.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it had lifted its week-long air and sea blockade of the war-torn country on November 13 after the UN warned that its blockade would lead to one of the world’s largest famines. However, on November 14, a Saudi-led airstrike destroyed a navigation station at Sana’a international airport, which is critical to receiving already limited aid shipments.

The strike “led to the total destruction of the VOR/DME radio navigation system, taking it offline and thus halting the only flights at Sana’a airport – those of the United Nations and other international organisations delivering humanitarian assistance,” the rebel-run General Authority for Civil Aviation said in a statement.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir Mark Lowcock, warned seventeen million people – 60 percent of the population – are food insecure, with seven million being on the brink of famine, dwarfing recent famines in South Sudan and Somalia.

Sir Lowcock urged the Saudi-led coalition to lift its blockade of the war-torn country which is already in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak.

On November 6, the coalition shut air, land and sea routes into the poorest country in the Middle East after Ansar Allah (Houthi) militia in Yemen fired a missile at Riyadh. The ballistic warhead was intercepted near the Saudi capital.

Saudi Arabia argued the full blockade was needed to stop Iran sending weapons to the Houthis. Iran denies arming Ansar Allah, who have fought the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 prompting the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Speaking after a UN Security Council briefing on November 8 Sir Lowcock said, “I have told the council that unless those measures are lifted… there will be a famine in Yemen.”

“It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year, where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims, ” he added.

The UN and the Red Cross warned that a “catastrophic” situation threatened millions of Yemenis who relied on life-saving aid deliveries.

Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which currently works in 13 hospitals and health centres in Yemen and provides support to more than 18 hospitals, said the Saudi-led coalition promise on November 6 to allow “the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies and crews” have not been kept.

In a statement released on November 8, Justin Armstrong, MSF head of mission in Yemen, said, “For the past three days, the Saudi-led coalition has not allowed MSF to fly from Djibouti to Sana’a or Aden, despite continued requests for authorization for our flights.”

Adding, “Access for humanitarian personnel and cargo into Yemen is essential to deliver desperately needed assistance to a population already severely affected by more than two and a half years of conflict.”

The Red Cross said its shipment of chlorine tablets, vital to combating a cholera epidemic which has affected more than 900,000 people, had been blocked.

Under international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict may impose naval blockades to prevent arms and material from reaching enemy forces. Goods such as food, fuel, and medicines destined for civilians can be inspected but not excessively delayed. The blockading force must publish a list of contraband items, but the coalition has not done so.

The international humanitarian aid agency Islamic Relief also called for aid workers to be given unhindered access in Yemen.

The call was made following the arrival in Yemen of an Islamic Relief (IR) cargo aeroplane at Sana’a International Airport carrying 19 tons of cholera medicines.

However, critical humanitarian aid deliveries and commercial supplies are being prevented from reaching people as all Yemeni airports, seaports and land crossings have been closed. Aid workers in and out of Yemen have also been restricted in their movements.

In a statement to The Muslim News IR’s UK Deputy Director, Tufail Hussain, “Yemen is on the brink of famine, and millions of women, children and men face starvation. Around half a million children under the age of five are severely malnourished and may die. We ask that all humanitarian agencies working in Yemen are given unhindered access and allowed to distribute urgent food and medical supplies to save lives.”

Malnutrition and disease, to which children are particularly susceptible, are widespread. An estimated 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished.

Half the country’s hospitals are closed, 15.7 million people lack access to clean water, and the country has over 900,000 suspected cholera infections, increasing by about 5,000 cases daily.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded at least 2,200 cholera-related deaths since April 27, according to a WHO report released on November 15.

As of November 14 a whopping 926,187 suspected cases of cholera have been registered countrywide over the same period, the report stated.
According to the UN organization, cholera cases have been reported in 22 out of Yemen’s 23 provinces.

More than 8,670 people – 60 percent of them civilians – have been killed and 49,960 injured in air strikes and fighting on the ground since the coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015, according to the UN.

“[We] can only speculate what these prohibited items might be,” said a shipping company official. “We certainly don’t carry any weapons on our ships.”

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