The UN World Food Programme yesterday appealed to fighting factions for access to the Yemeni city of Taiz where 240,000 civilians are in urgent need of food, as there have been no deliveries for five weeks.
“We plead for safe and immediate access . . . to prevent a humanitarian tragedy as supplies dwindle, threatening the lives of thousands, including women, children and the elderly,” said programme regional director Muhannad Hadi.
“These people have already suffered from extreme hunger, and if this continues the damage from hunger will be irreversible.”
Ten of Yemen’s 22 provinces were considered to be at emergency level in June, one step below famine, while a third of the country’s 26 million people required food aid.
Due to the fall in the value of the Yemeni rial from 215 to 300 to the dollar, Yemenis’ ability to buy food has deteriorated since rebel Shia Houthi tribesmen, who have Shia Iranian diplomatic backing, seized power last February. Fuel and cooking gas prices have also soared.
Last Monday, a hospital in Saada province, the Houthi homeland, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, was destroyed by missiles launched by Saudi-coalition war planes.
MSF, which had provided the Saudis with the hospital’s GPS co-ordinates, called the attack a “war crime”, regardless of whether it was a mistake. Six people were injured in the strike.
Unicef, the UN children's agency, said the MSF hospital was the 39th health centre struck in Yemen since the Saudi campaign began. "More children in Yemen may well died from a lack of medicines and healthcare than from bullets and bombs," said executive director Anthony Lake.
Unwilling to risk its own soldiers, Saudi Arabia has persuaded the United Arab Emirates to field ground troops and has recruited 6,000 Sudanese and 500 Mauritanian troops to hold the port city of Aden and take part in the coming assault on the Houthi-held capital Sana'a.
Up to 800 Colombian mercenaries trained by the US to fight the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), as well as scores of white South African veterans of wars across the world, are also taking up positions in Aden, currently a battleground between Saudi-deployed forces on one side and on the other al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State.
As Yemen’s dead have risen to 5,500-6,000 civilians, with 27,000 wounded due to indiscriminate strikes and the use of cluster bombs by Saudi-led forces and random shelling by rebels, the UN has been sharply critical of both sides.
The Obama administration – which has backed the Saudi offensive as a trade-off for Riyadh's endorsement of the Iran nuclear deal – is said to be split on the Saudis' campaign, touted by Riyadh as part of the Saudi Sunni-Iranian Shia struggle for regional supremacy.
UN mediated ceasefire talks have been repeatedly scheduled, then postponed.