Aid agencies beg for key Yemeni port to remain open for food deliveries
Geneva — UN aid agencies called on Tuesday for the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to remain open after Friday, the date set by a Saudi-led military coalition, to permit the continued delivery of life-saving goods.
Yemen was the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where 8.3-million people were entirely dependent on external food aid and 400,000 children suffered from severe acute malnutrition, a potentially lethal condition, they said.
The Arab coalition, under international pressure, eased the blockade that was imposed on Yemeni ports and airports in November in response to a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi movement towards Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Four mobile cranes arrived in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, the UN said on Monday, after the coalition agreed to let them into Yemen, where nearly three years of war have pushed it to the verge of famine.
"The port, in theory, is going be open to the 19th of this month. Then we don’t know if the coalition will close or [leave] it open," said Meritxell Relano, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative in Yemen, told a news briefing
"Obviously the feeling is that they extend this period so that the commercial goods can come in, but especially the fuel," she said, speaking from Sanaa.
Before the conflict, Hodeidah port handled about 70% of Yemen’s imports, including food and humanitarian supplies.
Fuel was vital to power water and sanitation stations to provide clean water and help avoid diseases, she said. More than 11-million Yemeni children — virtually all — needed humanitarian assistance, Relano said.
"Yemen is in the grips of the world’s biggest hunger crisis," World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said. "This is a nightmare that is happening right now.
"We appeal to parties on [the] ground in order to stave off famine that we can continue regularly to get food in, to get medicines in, to get fuel in, be it from the humanitarian or the commercial side," she said.
A diphtheria outbreak in Yemen was "spreading quickly", with 678 cases and 48 associated deaths in four months, Fadela Chaib of the World Health Organisation said. The number of cases had doubled since December 22, when the organisation reported 333 people affected by the contagious disease, with 35 deaths.