SANAA: The Saudi-led coalition should do “much more” to ease a blockade on Yemen impeding shipments of aid and fully reopen the key port of Hodeida, the UN said Monday.
Earlier this month, the coalition battling Iran-backed Huthi rebels imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports and airports in response to a missile fired by the Huthis that was intercepted near Riyadh airport.
It eased the blockade allowing a UN plane carrying vaccines to land Saturday in rebel-held Sanaa and on Sunday a vessel carrying wheat docked at Saleef Red Sea port, also in the Huthis’ hands.
But little aid has entered through the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the main conduit for UN-supervised deliveries of food and medicine and vital to UN efforts as it is closest to the majority of people in need.
“Obviously, we welcome the easing of the blockade, the partial lifting of it… but much more needs to be done,” Jamie Goldrick, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, told AFP.
He singled out Hodeida.
“We need the ports to be opened fully — especially Hodeida — for commercial and humanitarian goods so that people can get food cheaper. Otherwise, more and more people will suffer,” he said.
“What we need to do is to keep those ports opened and to expand the number of ships coming into Hodeida port,” added McGoldrick.
A vessel carrying the first shipment of food aid in three weeks — 25,000 tonnes of wheat — docked Sunday at Saleef in western Yemen, a spokesman for the World Food Programme said.
Saleef port is around 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Hodeida.
Also on Sunday, a ship docked at Hodeida, with the deputy head of the port saying it was a “commercial” vessel not linked to WFP aid.
McGoldrick stressed on Monday that the UN was trying to address the needs of seven million people in dire need of assistance, while the rest of Yemen’s population “relies solely on the commercial sector”.
“If the goods don’t come in through the normal channels there will be problems in terms of price rises,” he said.
“The actual amount of goods coming in Hodeida is not sufficient. We need the port opened fully. We cannot rely on other ports.”
UN officials say Yemen could face the world’s largest famine in decades unless the crippling blockade is lifted.
The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened to prop up Yemen’s government after the Iran-backed Huthis drove it from Sanaa, has demanded tighter inspections of Hodeida port.
“We replied to the Saudi-led coalition request. We have two teams ready to go to Riyadh,” said McGoldrick, adding however that the UN is still waiting for the Saudis to grant them entry visas to the kingdom.
More than 2,000 people have died of cholera in Yemen this year, adding to the 8,600 who have died in the conflict between the Saudi-backed government and the rebels since 2015.