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Massive UN Aid Operation Set to Take Off in Yemen

A Yemeni volunteer carries bags of rice to displaced people who fled fighting in the southern city of Aden, during a food distribution effort in Taiz, May 9, 2015.

A massive United Nations aid operation is set to take place in Yemen over the next few days if a recently announced temporary humanitarian cease-fire holds.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) says May 4 through 10 have been Yemen's deadliest since Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against Houthi rebels on March 26. During this time, it says at least 182 civilians have been killed, bringing the overall total of civilian deaths from the start of the air campaign to 828 and more than 1,500 wounded.

The World Health Organization is reporting at least 1,400 people killed and nearly 6,000 wounded. Because of the fighting and import restrictions on fuel, food and other relief supplies, millions of people in Yemen have received little or no aid resources.

If the negotiated five-day humanitarian pause holds, critical aid will be transported and distributed to those in great need. UNHCR has already sent a shipment of aid by sea, containing blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen utensils.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says it is urgent for aid to reach a greater number of people and that his agency is making final preparations for an airlift of humanitarian aid.

“Three flights carrying aid from our stockpiles in Dubai ... will bring 300 tons of sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting," Edwards said.

The WHO, which has 11 tons of medical kits and other supplies warehoused in Yemen, says it will distribute them only after fighting stops. The group also plans to fly in a 30-ton shipment of emergency health kits, surgical supply kits, diarrheal disease kits and water and sanitation supplies.

“Power cuts and fuel shortages are making the work of hospitals very difficult in both public and private sectors," said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic. "Some of them have started to shut down some of their departments, especially operation rooms and intensive care units, in order to reduce consumption of fuel.”

World Food Program spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says her group is readying emergency food rations for more than 750,000 people in conflict-hit regions of the country.

“During the pause, WFP will also preposition special food products for 25,000 children under five and pregnant and nursing women," she said. "Child malnutrition rates in Yemen are among the highest in the world, [with] around half of all children under 5 stunted ... as a result of malnutrition.”

Despite the lack of security, Byrs says aid workers have managed to reach more than 1 million people in the past month in eight governorates. She says the conflict has increased the number of hungry people, with an estimated 12 million struggling to find their next meal.