Middle East

Unicef urges unrestricted access to aid operations

Iran-backed militia imposing restrictions on movement and force agencies to use Al Houthis list of beneficiaries

A man feeds children Halas, a climbing vine of green leaves, in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. The leaves are made into green paste and used to be a traditional side dish, but at times of extreme poverty, it becomes the main meal. AP

Cairo: The regional chief of the UN agency for children says local Yemeni authorities are making it difficult to deliver and distribute much-needed humanitarian aid in Yemen and warned that impeding relief efforts could accelerate famine conditions.

Geert Cappelaere also told The Associated Press in an interview from Yemen that a US call for a cease-fire is imperative to end the “brutal war.”

Cappelaere, regional director of the United Nations Childrens Fund, visited the war-torn Red Sea port city of Hodeida and the capital Sanaa over the past two days as clashes and air strikes intensified.

Cappelaere said he cant bring the best nutrition experts to the country because of delays in granting visas and aid agencies are struggling to get supplies on time because of bureaucratic impediments.

He criticised authorities with “other interests” for creating delays in the arrival and distribution of supplies, without elaborating.

Most aid agencies operate in Al Houthi-held territories where the Iran-backed militia impose restrictions on movement and force agencies to use their lists of beneficiaries.

Cappelaeres visit came shortly after the United States called for the cease-fire within 30 days. He said the situation in Yemen now to his last visit in 2017 is deteriorating, adding that “the war is taking hostage millions of Yemenis who cant afford basic needs.”

Yemen has been at war since March 2015 when Al Houthis forced the legitimate government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile, resulting in a Saudi-led Arab coalition being formed to support the government.

“An end to the conflict is … a much-needed step but it needs to be complemented with investment and governance of this country that puts the interest of the people at the centre and the interest of the children at the core of politics,” Cappelaere said.

Three-quarters of Yemens 29 million people are food insecure, 1.8 children suffer from malnutrition and 400,000 children under age 5 are in the worst stage of malnutrition – without intervention they might die. Every 10 minutes a child dies of preventable diseases.

“This is not an overstatement,” Cappelaere said.

Around 40 per cent of the 400,000 children are located in Hodeida and its surroundings. Up to 5.5 million people might be added to the number of food insecure because of price hikes caused by the freefall in value of the local currency. Around 90 per cent of Yemens needs are imported from overseas.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia deliver most of the aid to the war-ravaged population of Yemen.

The coalition forces are battling the Al Houthis over control of the port, which the Al Houthis use to smuggle in weapons from Iran.

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