June 25, 2015 / 7:46 PM / 2 years ago

U.N. council, aid chief urge more shipments to Yemen amid famine threat

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council and U.N. aid chief Stephen O‘Brien on Thursday pushed for more aid and commercial access to Yemen, where a near total blockade by Saudi Arabia has slowed shipments to the war-torn Arabian Peninsula country to a trickle.

Aid packages from relief agencies are unloaded at Sanaa International Airport May 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

O‘Brien said 80 percent of Yemen’s 25 million people needed help and half the country was just one step from famine. Yemen imports nearly all its goods and O‘Brien said commercial shipments had dropped to 15 percent of the pre-crisis levels.

In a statement, the 15-member U.N. Security Council “stressed the urgent need for ongoing commercial supplies to enter Yemen as a humanitarian imperative because of the heavy dependence of Yemen and its people on imported food and fuel.”

The council backed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow aid delivery.

A Saudi-led coalition of Arab states has been bombing the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels since late March in a bid to restore to power Yemen’s elected president, who is backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia and has fled to Riyadh.

The Arab coalition is inspecting shipments in a bid to thwart any arms deliveries to the Houthis.

“Let’s be absolutely clear, it’s vital that we get commercial ships back in,” O‘Brien told reporters, adding that a lack of fuel prevented the delivery of aid within the country.

“The health system is facing imminent collapse with the closure of at least 160 health facilities due to insecurity and lack of fuel or other critical supplies,” O‘Brien said.

Since the violence escalated in March, O‘Brien said health facilities have reported that more than 2,800 people have been killed and some 13,000 wounded. He said more than 20 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation and that dengue fever and malaria had been reported in parts of the country.

The Security Council said a $1.6 billion U.N. humanitarian appeal for Yemen was currently only about 10 percent funded and urged more countries to contribute.

U.N.-sponsored talks in Geneva on a ceasefire between Yemen’s warring parties ended last week without a deal.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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