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Yemen War Continues to Take Heavy Toll on Civilians

Yemeni officials gather near a ship carrying food aid at Yemen's southern port of Aden, July 21, 2015.

United Nations aid agencies report intense fighting in Yemen continues to take a heavy toll on civilians.

Civilian casualties in Yemen are growing as air strikes and ground fighting continue. The United Nations reports more than 3,600 people have been killed, nearly half civilians, since Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Houthi rebels began March 26. It says another 17,300 people have been wounded, including 4,000 civilians.

The U.N. human rights office says deaths and injuries have occurred after a so-called humanitarian pause was supposed to have taken effect on July 11. Instead of a hoped for cease-fire, agency spokesman Rupert Colville says air strikes, ground clashes, shelling, sniper attacks and improvised explosive devices have continued relentlessly throughout the country.

“We have documented several attacks against residential areas, mosques and local markets by the various parties to the conflict," he said. "We remind, once again, all parties to the conflict that any intentional direct attack against civilians or civilian objects is considered a serious violation of international humanitarian law. And, the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be fully respected.”

21 million people in need

U.N. aid agencies report the war has devastated the country’s economy and left 21 million of the nation's 25 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The agencies say water is extremely scarce in 20 out of 22 governorates.

They say about 1.6 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and are in need of urgent treatment. They note 70 percent of the country's schools across are closed.

Hopes were pinned on the humanitarian pause for providing desperately needed aid to millions of Yemenis. U.N. Director of Information in Geneva, Ahmed Fawzi tells VOA its collapse was a big disappointment.

“I believe that even though the pause did not go forward as we had wanted, about 60 percent of the humanitarian activities that were in the pipeline did in fact take place. So, we were able to provide some aid, although not nearly enough. And, of course, we continue to be concerned about the fighting, which has not abated,” said Fawzi.

On Tuesday, for the first time in four months, a ship chartered by the World Food Program, carrying 3,000 tons of food, docked in the beleaguered port city of Aden. The supplies will be enough to feed 180,000 people for one month.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports 50,000 internally displaced children were immunized against polio, measles and rubella. It says more than 46 tons of medicine, medical supplies, water and hygiene materials were distributed in eight districts of Aden.