Three United Nations agencies have renewed pleas to a Saudi-led coalition to lift a blockade that has halted the flow of essential supplies into Yemen, warning that the lives of "untold thousands" of people are at stake.
"The cost of this blockade is being measured in the number of lives that are lost," the leaders of the World Food Program, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said in a statement.
The agencies said 7 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen and that number could increase by more than 3 million.
"Together, we issue another urgent appeal for the coalition to permit entry of lifesaving supplies to Yemen in response to what is now the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," the statement said.
Last week the coalition closed air, land and sea access to Yemen in response to a missile attack by Iran-backed Houthi rebels near the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
After widespread global criticism, Saudi Arabia has since partially eased some restrictions on ports controlled by Yemen, which is in the grips of a civil war. Saudi Arabia has allied with Yemen, intervening in the country in 2015 to resist Iran-backed Houthi rebels and to help restore President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to power.
The agencies warned that without fuel, food and medical supplies, water supply systems and waste water treatment plans would be disrupted, allowing the threat of famine to "grow by the day."
At least 1 million children could be exposed to diphtheria if a rapidly spreading outbreak is not contained, the agencies said. They also warned of a renewed flare-up of cholera, which was declining after the most explosive outbreak ever recorded, with more than 900,000 cases in the past six months.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday the blockade has recently forced three Yemeni cities to stop providing clean water, putting close to 1 million people at risk of a renewed cholera outbreak and other water-borne diseases.
“The water and sewage systems in Hodeida, Sa’ada and Taiz stopped operating because of a lack of fuel,” Alexandre Faite, the ICRC head of delegation in Yemen, said in a statement. “As a result, close to 1 million people are now deprived of clean water and sanitation in crowded urban environments in a country slowly emerging from the worst cholera outbreak in modern times.”
According the ICRC, other major urban areas, including Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city, will face the same situation in two weeks unless imports of essential goods resume immediately.
“Hospitals, clinics and emergency medical services are powered by generators which will soon also run out of fuel,” said Faite. “Yemen’s health structures, which have been close to the brink for months, now risk collapsing altogether. This comes at a time when increased fighting throughout the country results in rising numbers of wounded people. Our own stocks of medical supplies are dwindling and we risk soon being unable to provide critical support to dozens of health facilities.”
Faite warned, “Preventing humanitarian aid from flying into Sana’a and the free movement of humanitarian workers in and out of Yemen, is paralyzing vital assistance on which millions of Yemenis depend for their survival.”
The war in Yemen has claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced an estimated 3 million people. Even before the civil war began in 2015, Yemen was the most impoverished Arab country in the world.