A major aid agency says Saudi Arabia’s crippling blockade of Yemen is an “illegal collective punishment” of the Yemeni nation, some seven million of whom are on the brink of an appalling famine.
Jan Egeland, a former UN aid chief who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), made the remarks on Thursday, a day after the Saudi-led military coalition announced that it would partially lift the siege on the impoverished nation and would let humanitarian supplies in.
Egeland, whose charity group has already helped one million Yemenis, welcomed an announcement by the coalition on removing the blockade of Yemen’s western port city of Hudaydah and the international airport of the capital city of Sana’a, but said, “We only have it in writing now and haven’t seen it happen.”
This came more than two weeks after Saudi Arabia announced that it was shutting down Yemen’s air, sea, and land borders, after Yemeni Houthi Ansarullah fighters targeted an international airport near the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a cruise missile in retaliation for ceaseless bombardment of Yemen by the Saudi war machine over the past two and a half years.
The Saudi military, however, announced that it had intercepted the missile, which apparently reached the deepest parts within the Saudi territory.
“Sending a missile in the direction of Riyadh is really very bad. But those who are suffering from the blockade had nothing to do with this missile,” Egeland said. “Even if both the flights and humanitarian shipments will go through now, it is not solving the underlying crisis that a country that needs 90 percent of its goods imported is not getting in commercial food or fuel.”
Meanwhile, Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, also said in a statement that the Saudi siege was still in place despite Riyadh’s promise to lift it, saying “We have not yet had any movement as of now.”
He further announced that UN officials had already submitted requests to the military coalition for deliveries via Hudaydah and Sana’a, saying the “hope and expectation” was that vital aid pipelines would reopen on Friday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also said in a separate statement on Thursday that it was vital to have commercial traffic resumed.
“Yemenis will need more than aid in order to survive the crisis and ward off famine,” ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said.
The Saudi-led military coalition has been ceaselessly pounding Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement and reinstate the former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of the regime in Riyadh.
According to the latest figures, the war has so far killed over 12,000 Yemenis and wounded thousands more. The Saudi aggression has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.
Riyadh imposed a tight blockade on nearly all Yemeni air, land and sea ports on November 6, prompting human rights and charity groups to raise the alarm over deteriorating situation in the country as people, particularly children, are increasingly suffering from the lack of food and medical supplies.
Earlier this month, three of the UN agencies, the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, in a statement made a fresh plea for the Saudi war machine to remove its blockade on the impoverished nation, warning that without aid shipments “untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die.”
They further warned that even if the blockade was only partially removed, an additional 3.2 million people would be pushed into hunger. The trio also said that one million children were at risk of a fast-growing diphtheria outbreak.