Saudi Blockade of Yemen Is World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

Yemen today is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with nearly 70 percent of the population in need of aid, according to the United Nations.

“In response to what is now the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” the heads of three UN agencies urged the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition on Thursday to lift the blockade and allow medical supplies into Yemen, which already has 7.3 million people on the brink of famine. That number could grow by 3.2 million without the reopening of all ports, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake, and World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a joint statement, warning that without the necessary medicines, vaccines, and food essential to staving off disease and starvation, “untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die.”

The statement urgently appealed to the coalition to allow U.N.-chartered ships to all ports, even those controlled by the Houthi rebels.

“The cost of this blockade is being measured in the number of lives that are lost.”

“Even with a partial lifting of the blockade, the World Food Programme estimates that an additional 3.2 million people will be pushed into hunger. If left untreated, 150,000 malnourished children could die within the coming months. To deprive this many from the basic means of survival is an unconscionable act and a violation of humanitarian principles and law,” the statement said.

“This is the only way that UN-chartered ships can deliver the vital humanitarian cargo that the population needs to survive. Flights from the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service – into and out of Yemen – should be given immediate clearance to resume.”

The fuel shortage is putting water supply and waste treatment plants at risk, further increasing the possibility that cholera will spread through the country. Already 22 of Yemen’s 23 governorates have been affected by the outbreak. Fuel scarcity may also interrupt the vaccine cold chain, the UN said.

“We are already seeing the humanitarian consequences of the blockade. Diphtheria is spreading fast with 120 clinically diagnosed cases and 14 deaths – mostly children – in the last weeks. We have vaccines and medicines in transit to Yemen, but they are blocked from entry. At least one million children are now at risk of contracting the disease.”

The coalition closed all land, sea, and air ports in Yemen on November 6, following the interception of a ballistic missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels towards Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, on Saturday. They claimed their response was necessary to stem the flow of arms from Iran to its Houthi opponents in the war in Yemen.

On Tuesday, the UN dismissed the coalition’s conditions for reopening the port in rebel-controlled Hudaydah, where the majority of food aid for the north of the country is shipped.

UN staff have been able to move in or out of the country, the statement said. According to the International Committee for the Red Cross, nothing was getting to Sana’a International Airport after the Houthi-controlled civil air authority reported that an airstrike took out the airport’s navigation system.

More than 20 million people in Yemen, including more than 11 million children, urgently need humanitarian aid. Over three million people have been forced to flee their homes and nearly 15 million people have no access to basic healthcare.

Lack of water and sanitation systems has also resulted in a devastating cholera outbreak, which has already killed more than 2,100 individuals and resulted in more than 680,000 suspected cases being identified since April this year, with more than 900,000 expected cases.

The UN has repeatedly warned that 7 million Yemenis are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, and 17 million do not know where their next meal is coming from.

“7.3 million people are on the brink of famine,” UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore told the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Gilmore noted that out of a population of 27.4 million people, “18.8 million today are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 10.3 million in acute need.”

Yemen was plunged into a civil war in 2014 when Houthi rebels overran the capital Sana’a and much of the country, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee to Saudi Arabia.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened on behalf of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, launching a massive air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains. Since then, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports more than 14,000 civilians have been killed, an estimated 60 percent from the bombardment.

The United Nations adds the actual number of civilian deaths and injuries is likely to be far higher.

“This catastrophe is entirely man-made. The parties to the conflict, and their supporters, are directly responsible for these appalling and inhumane conditions.”