UN Leaders: Yemen is the World’s ‘Worst Humanitarian Crisis’

A demonstration in Yemen against the Saudi blockade of the country's ports and airports
Yemenis take part in a demonstration calling for the Saudi-led coalition's blockade to be lifted, on November 13, 2017, in the rebel-held capital Sanaa. The coalition shut down Yemen's borders on November 6 in response to a missile attack by Huthi rebels that was intercepted near Riyadh airport. Photo: Mohammad Huwais, AFP

United Nations leaders on Thursday urged the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade on Yemen’s borders and allow supplies in to ease what they called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In a statement, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake and World Health Organisation Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appealed to the coalition to lift the blockade and allow medical supplies into Yemen “in response to what is now the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

“The supplies, which include medicines, vaccines and food, are essential to staving off disease and starvation. Without them, untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die,” the statement said.

The statement urged the coalition to allow U.N.-chartered ships to all ports, even those controlled by the Houthi rebels.

“This is the only way that UN-chartered ships can deliver the vital humanitarian cargo that the population needs to survive. Flights from the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service – into and out of Yemen – should be given immediate clearance to resume.”

On Tuesday, the U.N. dismissed the coalition’s conditions for reopening the port in rebel-controlled Hudaydah, where the majority of food aid for the north of the country is shipped.

U.N. staff have been able to move in or out of the country, the statement said. The International Committee for the Red Cross has told The Globe Post that nothing was getting to Sana’a international airport after the Houthi-controlled civil air authority reported that an airstrike took out the airport’s navigation system.

More than 20 million people in Yemen, including more than 11 million children, urgently need humanitarian aid. Nearly 15 million people have no access to basic healthcare at a time when cholera has surged through the country, resulting in more than 900,000 expected cases.

The U.N. has repeatedly warned that 7 million Yemenis are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, and 17 million do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Earlier this week, aid agencies told The Globe Post that food and fuel prices in Yemen were increasing as supplies become more scarce. The U.N. leaders said Thursday that even a partial lifting of the blockade will not ease the shortage.

“Even with a partial lifting of the blockade, the World Food Programme estimates that an additional 3.2 million people will be pushed into hunger. If left untreated, 150,000 malnourished children could die within the coming months. To deprive this many from the basic means of survival is an unconscionable act and a violation of humanitarian principles and law,” the statement said.

The fuel shortage is putting water supply and waste treatment plants at risk, further increasing the possibility that cholera will spread through the country. Already 22 of Yemen’s 23 governorates have been affected by the outbreak. Fuel scarcity may also interrupt the vaccine cold chain, the U.N. said.

“We are already seeing the humanitarian consequences of the blockade. Diphtheria is spreading fast with 120 clinically diagnosed cases and 14 deaths – mostly children – in the last weeks. We have vaccines and medicines in transit to Yemen, but they are blocked from entry. At least one million children are now at risk of contracting the disease.”

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the country’s civil war in 2015 on behalf of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 13,000 civilians have been killed since the Saudi coalition began its air campaign, an estimated 60 percent from the bombardment.