Spotlight: UN leaders concerned about new fighting in Yemen, demand lifting blockade

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-04 11:43:02|Editor: Lu Hui
Video PlayerClose

Clashes between the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh aggravate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. (AFP Photo)

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday expressed concern over the recent escalation of armed conflict in Yemen, with other UN leaders demanding the immediate resumption of commercial shipments to Yemen for the sake of the starving population.


"The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the sharp escalation of armed clashes and airstrikes in (the capital city of) Sanaa and other parts of Yemen over the past several days," said Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement.

"This latest outbreak of violence could not come at a worse time for the Yemeni people, who are already caught up in the world's largest humanitarian crisis," said the statement, referring to the clashes between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The two forces were previous allies against forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The new clashes, which broke out on Wednesday in Sanaa and then spread to other parts of the country, have resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, including civilians.

The secretary-general called on all parties to the conflict to cease all air and ground assaults, said the statement.

The new conflict and the blockade imposed on Nov. 6 by the Saudi-led military coalition, which is fighting Houthi rebels, have caused significant shortages of critical supplies, especially food and fuel, and resulted in price hikes, curtailing access to food, safe water and healthcare, said the statement.

"The secretary-general calls for the urgent resumption of all commercial imports, without which millions of children, women and men risk mass hunger, disease and death."

Although the Saudi-led coalition has partially lifted the blockade, UN humanitarian shipments still face impediments.

"Fighting is restricting the movement of people and life-saving services within Sanaa city. Ambulances and medical teams cannot access the injured, and people cannot go outside to buy food and other necessities. Aid workers are unable to travel and implement critical life-saving programs at a time when millions of Yemenis rely on assistance to survive," said the statement.

The secretary-general called on all parties to the conflict to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law. "It is paramount that civilians are protected, that the wounded are afforded safe access to medical care, and that all sides facilitate life-saving humanitarian access."

Guterres reiterated that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict. He urged all parties to the conflict to engage meaningfully with the United Nations to revitalize inclusive negotiations on a political settlement.


In a joint statement on Saturday, leaders of various UN agencies called on the Saudi-led coalition to immediately allow the resumption of commercial imports, especially food, fuel and medicines to Yemen.

"Without the urgent resumption of commercial imports, especially food, fuel and medicines, millions of children, women and men risk mass hunger, disease and death," warned World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UN Development Programme head Achim Steiner, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, UNICEF chief Anthony Lake, World Food Programme head David Beasley, International Organization for Migration Director General William Lacy Swing, and UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.

The partial lifting of the blockade of Yemen's Red Sea ports by the Saudi-led coalition in recent days is allowing humanitarian organizations to resume the provision of life-saving assistance to people in desperate need.

Ongoing commercial import restrictions have led to shortages of fuel, food and other essentials, driving up prices and devastating lives and livelihoods. The price of wheat flour has risen by 30 percent, while the price of fuel has doubled and that of trucked water has skyrocketed by 600 percent in some locations, said the statement.

Urban water networks in seven cities have run out of water and now depend on humanitarian organizations to fill in the gap. Other cities will shortly be in a similar situation if the blockade is not lifted, which would leave 11 million people without safe water.

In other areas, people are reducing their food consumption to dangerous levels in order to pay for the rising cost of water trucking, or are turning to contaminated water sources to meet their basic needs. This further compounds the risk of disease, especially among children, said the statement.

Less than half of the health facilities are functioning, and more hospitals and health centers will close should fuel and water supplies not improve. Sewage networks in six main cities are compromised, threatening a renewed spike in the country's cholera outbreak, which has reached almost 1 million suspected cases and killed over 2,200 people, it said.

"Yemen remains on the cusp of one of the largest famines in modern times," it said.

Nearly 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and face an increased risk of death. More than 8 million people could starve without urgent food assistance coming into Yemen. With 90 percent of the country's food imported, the lack of commercial imports through Red Sea ports would alone push a further 3 million people into starvation, said the statement.

"The threat of widespread famine in a matter of months is very real," it warned.

This imminent catastrophe is entirely avoidable, but it requires immediate action by the Saudi-led coalition, said the statement.

While three ships carrying food have been granted permission to berth at Hudaydah seaport in recent days, four fuel tankers and 10 ships carrying food have all been waiting for permission to enter port, it noted.

"Together, we call on the coalition to urgently open up all Yemeni Red Sea ports fully and to facilitate the entry and free flow of humanitarian and vital commercial goods," it said.

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Saturday stressed the need to protect civilians as clashes broke out between the rebel alliance in the Arab world's poorest country.

"We are deeply concerned by the implications of these events on the civilian population," said Ahmed in a statement. "We urge the parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law including their obligations to respect the principle of distinction, proportionality and precaution. All sides must exercise restraint and ensure that their attacks are never directed at civilians or civilian objects. We caution against the serious impact of armed violence against civilians."

He called on the parties to urgently come to the negotiating table and to engage in the peace process. A political solution is the only way out of the prolonged conflict in Yemen, said Ahmed.

A civil war has been raging in Yemen since 2015, pitting forces loyal to former President Saleh against his successor Hadi, who was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led military coalition started a military campaign against the forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthi rebels who were fighting alongside them, in a bid to restore the Hadi-led government.