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Yemen Aid Pause Holds; Fuel Shortage Critical

  • Lisa Schlein

Displaced children play in a room in a school, where they are living with their family, who fled after a Saudi-led airstrike destroyed their houses, in Sana'a, Yemen, May 14, 2015.

Displaced children play in a room in a school, where they are living with their family, who fled after a Saudi-led airstrike destroyed their houses, in Sana'a, Yemen, May 14, 2015.

The United Nations reports the 5-day humanitarian pause in Yemen is generally holding, but it warns the needs of the conflict-ridden population remain overwhelming and people will continue to suffer from a lack of lifesaving assistance when this period of relative tranquility ends.

U.N. aid agencies say the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains extremely preoccupying and the Saudi-led blockade of commercial and humanitarian imports of vital goods is causing enormous hardship for the population.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Johannes Van Der Klaauw says difficulties in importing fuel, food, medicine and other lifesaving assistance by air and sea are having a devastating impact on the population. Speaking on a telephone line from the capital, Sana'a, Van Der Klaauw, says the arms embargo and inspection regime must be simplified and made faster.

“The lack of fuel …is a very critical issue because unless additional fuel is made available within a few weeks, unless that happens, hospitals will shut down, water and sanitation systems will come to a halt, telecom services will end, water supplies will be cut across the country because there is no electricity. Everything works on generators, which need fuel," said Van Der Klaauw.

The five-day humanitarian pause is meant to give the beleaguered population a bit of a respite from war and allow it to leave zones of conflict. During this period, aid agencies will provide essential aid and basic services, remove dead bodies from the streets, evacuate the wounded and provide critical medical treatment.

The war is taking a devastating toll. Since Saudi Arabia launched its airstrike campaign against Houthi rebels two months ago, the United Nations reports more than 1,500 people have been killed, over 6,200 wounded and 450,000 have become newly displaced. In addition, more than 29,000 Yemenis and people of mixed nationalities have fled the country.

While the humanitarian pause is working globally, U.N. officials note local skirmishes continue in the southern city of Aden and other areas of conflict. It says these local, temporary battles prevent aid workers from accessing the population and they also have knocked out communication networks for periods of time.

Head of the Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen Trond Jensen says it will not be possible to assist all people in need during the humanitarian pause. Therefore, he tells VOA aid agencies will focus their efforts on reaching the most vulnerable, particularly those caught in conflict.

“We are aiming to reach, I would say, up to 2.5 million people in terms of the interventions. That being said these are not necessarily people who will be immediately reached in terms of the pause. But, where we will pre-position stocks, where we will repair water systems, where we will provide fuel for hospitals, etc., etc.— where the impact will not be immediate, but will be materializing in the coming weeks," said Jensen.

U.N. officials say they hope the five-day pause will be extended and humanitarian workers can assist people with full guarantees of safety. They say they hope this break in the fighting ultimately will result in a political agreement to end the war, which is taking such a heavy toll in lives, livelihoods and property.

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