Yemen blockade needs to be fully wound down: UN

GENEVA/SANAA: The Saudi-led military coalition must fully lift its blockade on Yemen, where seven or eight million are “right on the brink of famine”, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said on Friday, but he declined to say if maintaining such a blockade was legal. “That blockade has been partially wound down but not fully wound down. It needs to be fully wound down if we are to avoid an atrocious humanitarian tragedy involving the loss of millions of lives, the like of which the world has not seen for many decades,” he said.
The coalition, fighting the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen with backing from the United States, Britain and other countries, eased the blockade this week, allowing aid ships into the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Salif, as well as UN flights to Sanaa.
UN humanitarian officials have said Yemen cannot rely on humanitarian aid alone but must have commercial imports too, because it relies on imports for the vast majority of its food, fuel and medicine.
The coalition wants tighter UN verification and inspection for commercial ships entering the Ansar Allah-controlled port of Hodeidah, the most important hub.
“I’ve called for five things in respect of the Saudi blockade,” Lowcock said. “Some of them have happened like the resumption of humanitarian air services, like partial reopening of the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef on the Red Sea. What I’m interested in is finding solutions.” According to a 2015 UN Security Council resolution on Yemen, “arbitrary denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supply and access, may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.”
Lowcock, launching the UN’s humanitarian appeal for 2018, said the world body had consistently called on all sides to uphold their obligations. “It is absolutely essential that people uphold their international obligations. Wars have rules and they need to be complied with,” he said.
“I’m not a lawyer but clearly international humanitarian law includes a requirement to facilitate unhindered access for aid agencies, and that’s what I’ve been trying to secure both in what I’ve said publicly and also in my private dialogue,” he saud.
Meanwhile, fighting between Ansar Allah fighters and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh rocked the capital Sanaa for a second straight night, leaving at least three people dead, Saleh’s party said on Friday.
— Reuters/AFP