March 3, 2016 / 6:08 PM / in 2 years

U.N. warns against slowing recent increase in aid flow to Yemen

Girls stand outside a tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Yemen's central province of Marib, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Ali Owidha

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations’ aid chief Stephen O‘Brien on Thursday warned countries not to take any steps that would reverse the recent increase in emergency aid for Yemen moving through ports in the conflict-torn country.

Last month O‘Brien said that a Saudi Arabian-led coalition and Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen were both restricting humanitarian aid access in the impoverished country, where more than 80 percent of people need help.

“In recent months, there has been a significant increase of fuel and other life-saving imports through Yemeni ports, and it is critical that every effort be made by all member states concerned to encourage, and not hinder, that trend,” O‘Brien told the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.

“It is imperative that imports to Yemen and trading within Yemen be allowed to continue,” he said. “I call on all parties to ensure protection of civilian infrastructure, including shipping ports and associated equipment.”

O‘Brien told the U.N. Security Council earlier this month that a U.N. verification and inspection mechanism for shipments had been launched in a bid to boost commercial imports.

However, in his address the council on Thursday, O‘Brien suggested it was not up and running yet. He said plans to get the inspection mechanism, known as UNVIM, “will be finalized this week, allowing the full commencement of UNVIM operations.”

O‘Brien said more than 2,000 children have been killed or injured in the war.

The Saudi coalition began a military campaign in March of last year to prevent Iran-allied Houthi rebels from taking complete control of Yemen. The Houthis and forces loyal to former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, accuse the coalition of a war of aggression.

U.N. sanctions monitors said in a report earlier this year that the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels have targeted civilians and that some attacks could be a crimes against humanity.

Yemen relies almost solely on imports, but the conflict has slowed shipments to a trickle.

The United Nations said on Thursday that a World Food Programme ship carrying humanitarian aid offloaded its cargo in Yemen after it was diverted to Saudi Arabia last month because it was carrying communications equipment.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Tom Brown

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