UN official warns of largest famine in decades in Yemen if blockade continues

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 8 – The United Nations’ (UN) humanitarian chief warned on Wednesday of an appalling famine in Yemen unless the current air, sea and land blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition is lifted.

Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told reporters about the issue after he briefed the Security Council on the situation in Yemen.

“It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier this year when tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine that caused 250,000 lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world hasn’t seen for many decades, with millions of victims,” he said.

Lowcock asked for immediate steps to mitigate the imminent humanitarian disaster, including a resumption of flights by the UN and its partners to Yemeni cities Sanaa and Aden, assurances that the air services will not be disrupted, and an agreement on the pre-positioning of the World Food Program vessel in the waters off Aden and assurances that its functions will not be disrupted.

The rest of the steps are a resumption of humanitarian and commercial access to all seaports of Yemen, especially for essential supplies, and a scaling back of interference with all vessels that have passed UN verification and inspection so that they can proceed to ports in Yemen as rapidly as possible.

Lowcock, who visited Yemen at the end of last month, was asked to brief the Security Council, which held a closed-door meeting over Yemen at the request of the Swedish Mission to the UN.

Before the briefing, Carl Skau, deputy permanent representative of Sweden to the UN, noted Yemen faces the worst humanitarian situation in the world.

About 7 million Yemenis are on the verge of famine, and 21 million people need humanitarian assistance. There are also almost 1 million cases of cholera, he said.

“I don’t even want to imagine what the consequences would be should the current closure continue,” Skau told reporters.

After the late-afternoon briefing, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, president of the Security Council for this month, said the council was concerned about “the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

The Security Council stressed the need to keep all seaports and airports functioning, including the seaport of Al Hudaydah, a critical lifeline for humanitarian aid and other essential supplies, Cardi told reporters.

The council demanded parties provide “full, safe, rapid and unhindered access” for humanitarian supplies and UN personnel to all affected governorates in the war-torn country, he said.

Yemen has been in civil war since 2015, pitting Sanaa-based Houthi forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against forces of the incumbent government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, based in Aden. A Saudi-led coalition uses airstrikes to restore the Hadi government.

Cardi said the Security Council condemned Saturday’s missile attack against the Saudi capital Riyadh, which Saudi Arabia claims was launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The missile, which allegedly targeted a densely populated area in the city, was shot down.

The United States indicated Tuesday that the missile, together with one launched by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia in July, might be of Iranian origin, and demanded action on Iran from the UN.

Cardi said Wednesday that the provision of weapons to Houthis in Yemen violates UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

He said the council supports a political solution to the Yemeni issue and asks all parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law.

(Copyright Xinhua, received through National News Agency)

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