Aid situation in Yemen has become catastrophic, say relief officials

Houthis block aid to Aden, Saudis hold up ships
Aid situation in Yemen has become catastrophic, say relief officials
(Getty Images)
By Reuters
Tue 28 Apr 2015 12:09 PM

The
humanitarian situation in Yemen has become catastrophic, relief officials said
on Monday, as Saudi-led aircraft pounded Iran-allied Houthi militiamen and
rebel army units for a second day, dashing hopes for a pause in fighting to let
aid in.

Residents said
warplanes flew between 15 and 20 sorties against groups of Houthi fighters and
arms depots in the al-Dhalea provincial capital, Dhalea, and the nearby city of
Qa'ataba, between dawn and 0900 local time (0600 GMT), setting off a chain of
explosions that lasted for two more hours.

Fighting
intensified on Sunday, after a lull following an announcement by Riyadh last
week that it was ending its nearly five-week-old bombing campaign except in
places where the Houthis were advancing, to allow access for food and medicine.

A coalition of
Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, rattled by what they saw as expanding
Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula, is trying to stop Houthi fighters
and loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Salah taking control of Yemen.

But the air
campaign has had little success and vital aid was reported to be being held up
by both sides. Houthis were stopping convoys of trucks reaching the southern
port city of Aden and an arms blockade by Saudi-led coalition navies searching
ships for weapons was holding up food deliveries by sea.

"It was
difficult enough before, but now there are just no words for how bad it's
gotten," said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman
Marie Claire Feghali. "It's a catastrophe, a humanitarian
catastrophe."

Yemeni Human Rights
Minister Izzedine al-Asbahi agreed.

"The war
and its results have turned Yemen back 100 years, due to the destruction of
infrastructure ... especially in the provinces of Aden, Dhalea and Taiz,"
he told a news conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Telecommunications
within Yemen and with the outside world could be cut within days due to a
shortage of fuel, state-run news agency Saba quoted the director of
telecommunications as saying. Fuel shortages were also preventing traders from
moving food to market, the United Nations' World Food Programme said.

Fuel prices
were as much as $10 per liter ($37.85 a gallon), and there was only enough to
keep hospitals running for one more week and to prolong life-saving
humanitarian operations for two weeks, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said.

A commercial
oil tanker has been waiting outside Yemeni waters since April 21 for clearance
to dock, the UN said.

Saudi-led
warplanes also struck the area around the presidential compound in Sanaa for a
second day, while heavy street fighting was under way in the strategic city of
Taiz in central Yemen, according to residents and the ICRC. There were no
immediate reports on the extent of casualties.

The UN said
mortar fire had reportedly been directed at a hospital in Taiz, where
ambulances and mobile clinics were looted on April 25.

Hisham Abdul
Wahab, a resident of a Sanaa district hit by a big blast last week, said he had
tried but failed to stay on.

"Some
people began returning to the neighbourhood, but the strikes began again and
now they're leaving a second time. The place is devastated: there are no roads,
no water and no electricity. Nobody's left but thieves," he said.

Fighting has
killed more than 1,000 people, including an estimated 551 civilians since the
bombings started on March 26, the United Nations said on Friday. Its children's
agency UNICEF said at least 115 children were among the dead.

In Aden, a
Saudi airstrike on a building where Houthi snipers had been based killed at
least two civilians and wounded two others, residents and a local official
said.

Medical sources
and residents also said that Houthi fighters stormed into Aden's al-Jumhouriyah
hospital, the largest in the city, and that many patients fled the compound,
apparently fearing it may be targeted by Saudi-led warplanes.

Saudi Arabia,
the world's top oil exporter and arch Sunni Muslim regional rival of Shi'ite
Muslim Iran, says it was concerned for its own security and Yemen's stability
after Shi'ite Houthi forces captured the capital and began advancing across the
country, on its southern border, in September.

The air strikes
have increased the regional tension, with the commander of Iran's elite
Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, comparing Saudi Arabia to
Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel.

The Houthis
allege President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fostered Islamist militants linked to
al Qaeda and corrupt officials. Hadi, who fought al Qaeda before fleeing the
Houthi advance, says the Islamist militant group is as much a threat to Yemen
as it had always been.

Riyadh says it
wants to restore Hadi, now in exile in Saudi Arabia, and prevent Yemen
disintegrating, with al Qaeda militants thriving in the chaos and one of the
world's busiest oil shipping lanes off the Yemeni coast at risk.

The fighting,
which pits the Houthis against Sunni tribesmen and Islamist militants, with
army units on both sides, has made life increasingly perilous for the country's
25 million people, who rely on imports for more than 90 percent of their food.

Residents said
bread was in short supply in Aden and a convoy of trucks carrying flour from
the Red Sea port of Hodeida was being prevented by the Houthis from entering
the city.

The UN said
three ships, one carrying 13,500 tonnes of rice, were awaiting clearance at
Hodeida, and six more carrying fuel, corn, vegetable oil, unrefined sugar,
steel and timber were awaiting clearance from the coalition to dock at the
nearby Salifa port.

Retail prices
for wheat and flour have risen by more than 40 percent since February, while
medicine prices have risen by more than 300 percent, the UN said.

The Houthis
also blocked a convoy of ICRC trucks carrying medical supplies to Aden, but
contacts were underway to allow the supplies in.

"Our
convoys were blocked from going to Aden and Marib over the weekend and we are
in discussions with the Houthis to resolve that," another ICRC
spokeswoman, Sitara Jabeen, said.

Residents said
there were at least five air raids on areas under Houthi control in Marib and
al-Jouf in northern Yemen and heavy clashes continued in Taiz, where armed
Sunni tribesmen and Islamist fighters have taken back several districts from
the Houthis in heavy fighting, according to residents there.

Residents said
street battles were raging in the city of some three million, with both sides
using tanks and artillery in residential areas. "The heaviest street
fighting is taking place in Taiz. Airstrikes also continued in Aden,"
Jabeen said.

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