Last updated: 7 July, 2011

UN mission warns of Yemen humanitarian crisis

Yemen needs urgent international aid to head off a humanitarian crisis, a UN mission visiting the impoverished country said on Wednesday, warning of “collective punishment” against civilians.

“We call on the international community to quickly provide humanitarian aid to Yemen during this difficult time,” said the UN team in a statement at the end of a nine-day visit.

“Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis due to intentional actions plus a failure in taking action,” it said.

“We remind everyone, whether government or non-government parties, that civilians should not fall as victims of collective punishment because of the power struggle” gripping their country, it said.

“Officials must realise that with such actions, they are violating international laws and will thus be held accountable after Yemen passes this phase. We urge them to stop these acts,” it added.

The poorest country in the Middle East has since late January been rocked by deadly anti-government protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster. Security forces have been used to clamp down on protests across the country.

The unrest has led to shortages in power, water, food and fuel, amid charges that elite Republican Guard troops led by Saleh’s son Ahmed are preventing supplies from entering Sanaa.

“The absence of security, the spread of outlaws, obstacles preventing free movement, and the many outcomes of oil and power shortages have greatly influenced the economy and means of transporting food from cities to countryside,” said the UN statement.

“It has also affected education and medical services … and has caused inflation as well as an increase in unemployment. It has also created an economy which depends on the black market,” it said.

Oxfam aid agency last month said that several months of unrest and anti-regime protests had exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Yemen, where at least seven million people go hungry each day.

The Common Forum, a parliamentary opposition alliance, has repeatedly held the regime of embattled Saleh, hospitalised in Saudi Arabia from wounds sustained in a June 3 bomb attack, responsible for the shortages.

The grouping has also accused Saleh’s regime of carrying out “collective punishment” against the people.

The mission sent by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights landed in Sanaa on June 28, nearly a week after the UN Security Council expressed “grave concern” over the violence in Yemen.

Team members held talks with regime and opposition officials as well as representatives of Yemeni civil society.