Unicef calls for humanitarian aid for 135,000 Yemeni children

Houthi rebels agree to withdraw from Hodeida in deal with Saudi-backed government

Yemeni children  wait for food rations  in Sana’a, Yemen. ‘The children of Yemen have suffered far too long, living in conditions no human being should ever have to bear.’ Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

Yemeni children wait for food rations in Sana’a, Yemen. ‘The children of Yemen have suffered far too long, living in conditions no human being should ever have to bear.’ Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

 

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, has welcomed the agreement reached by Saudi-sponsored and rebel Houthi forces for an imminent withdrawal from Yemen’s key Red Sea ports. UN mediator Martin Griffiths has informed the Security Council that the pull-out could start this week.

There could be delay, however, in implementing the agreement reached last weekend. Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdul Salam said the withdrawal would take two days, but the Saudi-backed government insists it would begin only after the sides agree on an authority to secure and operate the ports.

Unicef called for “unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to the 135,000 children remaining” in Hodeida city, where they are facing “the highest levels” of malnutrition and cholera in the country. “The children of Yemen have suffered far too long, living in conditions no human being should ever have to bear,” the agency stated, urging implementation of the Hodeida deal and a nationwide ceasefire.

Under the UN deal, Houthi fighters have committed to evacuating Hodeida port, which handles 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports, and two smaller ports bringing in grain and oil. Saudi-backed paramilitaries are set to open the highway to the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, and pull back from the eastern outskirts of Hodeida city, where fighting raged until a ceasefire was imposed in December. Yemen teeters on the brink of the world’s worst famine in a century.

Malnutrition

At least 19 million of Yemen’s 28 million people endure different degrees of malnutrition and illness due to four years of violence that has killed about 60,000 people. The UN estimates that 85,000 children have died of starvation and preventable diseases.

While the flow of supplies into the country and humanitarian access to all areas are major problems, aid to Yemen could halt by the end of March if agencies remain starved for funds.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who said $4.2 billion is needed for 2019, told the UN Security Council: “Among the many challenges the aid operation faces, funding is quickly becoming the biggest.”

The UN-co-ordinated operation involving 250 agencies is the largest in the world. Sweden and Switzerland are hosting a pledging conference next week to raise funds for Yemen.

Cross-border attacks

Meanwhile, in Yemen’s north, Houthi fighters have conducted cross-border attacks on Saudi troops. The Saudi air force conducts unhindered air strikes on Houthi-held areas while 14,000 Sudanese mercenaries have been deployed on the ground alongside local militiamen to battle the rebels. The United Arab Emirates employs mercenaries from Latin America, South Africa and Australia.

The US, UK and France are among nine countries supplying arms to Saudi Arabia. Germany has joined Denmark, Norway and Finland in banning the sale of weapons due to the Yemen war.

The Saudis and Emiratis launched their 2015 campaign against the Houthis – who are accused of receiving aid from Iran – with the aim of restoring to power Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. He was ousted by the Houthis, who demanded a government free from external influence, fair representation in parliament and an end to corruption.

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