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UN says a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ is unfolding in Yemen

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United Nations: The UN humanitarian chief warned that a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding in Yemen, exacerbated by increasing restrictions on efforts to respond to the staggering needs of millions of people including the diversion of a UN aid ship by Saudi-led coalition forces.

Stephen O’Brien painted a grim picture of the war-ravaged country yesterday: more than 35,000 casualties since March 2015 including over 6,000 deaths; at least 7.6 million people “severely food insecure;” more than 3.4 million children now out of school; and nearly 600 health facilities and over 1,170 schools unfit for use because of the conflict.

O’Brien’s briefing to the UN Security Council, requested by Russia, was the first focusing on the humanitarian crisis sparked by the country’s civil war.

Yemen’s conflict pits the government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, allied with a former president. The Houthis took over the capital Sanaa in September 2014, and the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against the Houthis in March 2015. Al-Qaeda militants, southern separatists, and other militants have capitalised on the chaos of the civil war.

O’Brien said he is “extremely concerned” about increasing restrictions on humanitarian access and deliveries, and he blamed all parties.

He said the Houthis and their allies are inconsistent in allowing access to areas they control, noting that over the past week some UN agencies were given approvals but others were denied for missions to Ibb, Taiz and Saada.

He said aid deliveries are continuing in areas where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is present, but movement “is extremely challenging and dangerous.” He said access to northern governorates, where needs are among the most severe, is challenging because of coalition airstrikes and fighting, especially along the Saudi border.

O’Brien said recent communications from Saudi Arabia on the safety of humanitarian workers in Houthi-controlled areas have “impacted the humanitarian community’s planning, causing delays to important missions over the past two weeks.”

This follows Saudi Arabia’s denial of entry to the UN regional humanitarian coordinator on Jan 17, and the diversion of a ship chartered by the UN World Food Program to bring humanitarian supplies from Djibouti to the Yemen port of Hodeidah to the Saudi port of Jizan on Feb 11 by coalition forces.

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