Commercial cargo ships carrying food, fuel and other vital supplies must be allowed to reach ports in Yemen which is threatened by famine, the UN Security Council said Thursday.
The Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen has imposed maritime controls that UN diplomats have described as a blockade preventing imports from reaching Yemen.
“It’s vital that we get commercial ships back in,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien told reporters.
The 15-member council said in a unanimous statement that there was “an urgent need for ongoing commercial supplies to enter Yemen as a humanitarian imperative.”
Yemen’s imports have dropped to 15 percent of pre-crisis levels, in a country that is heavily dependent on goods from outside to survive.
More than 21 million people — 80 per cent of Yemen’s population — need humanitarian aid and one million have been displaced in the fighting between the Huthis and Saudi-backed troops.
Ten of Yemen’s 22 governorates are classified as being in food emergency — one step below famine, said O’Brien.
Yemen slid deeper into turmoil when the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes in late March to stop an advance by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels who drove the president into exile.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are demanding that the Huthis pull back from territory seized in their offensive and that President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi be restored to power.
– Stone-age conditions –
Controlling port access to Yemen has become crucial amid fears that the rebels could receive fresh supplies of weapons.
O’Brien, who traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, said discussions in Riyadh focused on ensuring that the ships’ cargos are inspected and that the United Nations could oversee these measures.
Months of fighting have left Yemen on the brink of famine and all sides have shown an “utter disregard for human life,” O’Brien said.
The aid chief cited a woman who said she was struggling to keep her family “going in stone-age conditions.”
More than 20 million people lack access to water while the collapsing health care system is facing an outbreak of dengue fever and malaria in the south and in areas bordering Saudi Arabia.
O’Brien released $25 million in additional UN funds to help ease the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The Security Council in its statement urged world governments to dig deep in their pockets after only 10 percent of the latest UN appeal for Yemen of $1.6 billion was raised.
The council also endorsed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for a humanitarian pause despite the failure last week of peace talks in Geneva.