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The UN calls for a ceasefire in Yemen to provide humanitarian aid

The UN urges all parties in Yemen’s conflict to respect both international human rights and humanitarian laws and to ensure that all feasible measures are taken to protect civilians by allowing and facilitating rapid and unimpeded passage of relief for scores of civilians in need

With almost 200 people killed and another 179 injured fearing death, July 6 marked the highest one-day death toll in Yemen since the conflict erupted in March. As hospitals close, rockets continue to blast civilian targets and humanitarian services are blocked. So on July 9, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that midnight July 10 would mark the beginning of military ceasefire so that humanitarian actors could be given access to reach civilians in need.

However, just hours before the long awaited ceasefire was scheduled to begin the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released new data showing that the country's humanitarian crisis is now at a new low. The UN Security Council (UNSC) welcomed the announcement as well as other information that the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and international non-governmental organizations immediately joined together in activating the highest level of emergency response. The UNSC then warned all parties of the need to suspend military operations during the pause and not use the moment to their advantage in order to move weapons or seize territory.

Due to the rapidly disintegrating health services and the spread of infectious disease among children, UNICEF and its partners deemed it a necessity to hasten a series of initiatives for the sake of Yemen's struggling minors. Efforts such as nutrition screening, vaccinations, blood testing and transfusion services, and other life-saving interventions were put in place to ensure that children receive immediate treatment. UNICEF’s team in Aden is already geared up to vaccinate roughly one million children under the age of one against measles, polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The organization also echoed the call for all parties to enable the urgent delivery of food, water and medical attention to citizens caught in the midst of the fighting. “Our mobile teams and staff have to brave extremely hazardous conditions, risking their lives to reach children and women wherever they can. If they don't do that more children are likely to die from malnutrition and preventable diseases,” Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen said.

With more than 3,000 Yemenis killed, one million displaced and 13 million people on the brink of starvation, the country is in a dire state of emergency caused by the proxy war between Sunnis and Houthis/Shi’ites groups which broke out in March this year. In only three months, Yemen’s civilian death toll is over 1,500 and amid the country’s dramatic humanitarian crisis, is increasing. Between the two weeks of June 17 to July 3, at least 92 civilians were killed. “Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict,” said Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Saudi-led Sunni coalitions have been pushing their way into Yemen's deeply compounded internal battle with blatant assuredness that they would stunt the desire of the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis who want to take control of the country. Reports are that one local group, “Popular Resistance,” that has some affiliation with the Sunni group, has also executed at least six people who they perceived as loyalists of the Houthi coalition. Over the July 4 weekend, air strikes left 12 people dead and 36 buildings destroyed.

This multitude of acts of violence (such as abducted civilians placed in detention and being ill-treated; the malicious attacks against places of worship, humanitarian workers, journalists and media organizations) has caused another reported 46,000 persons to flee the country in search of refuge. Schools, which used to be the resting place for internally displaced persons have been under a forced shut-down down since May. “We call again to all parties to allow unfettered access for humanitarian aid,” Adrian Edwards, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson said.

 

Despite the horror, major obstacles and lack of security, several United Nations assistance agencies still continue with the effort to deliver aid. In May, roughly 63,369 people who had been staying in refugee centers were able to receive some form of assistance. So far, the World Food Program (WFP) has distributed food to 1.9 million Yemenis but now three million tons of food and fuel on board seven ships that were expected to dock in ports between July 3 and 9 have been stalled. The severe drop in the amount of assistance, due to restricted access to interior regions of Yemen’s governorates, is causing a worsening of the situation. Border, air and seaport restrictions, have caused a tremendous drop in the delivery of food and other essentials. “The food situation is very bad. Humanitarian agencies are facing serious difficulties in reaching the port and the security situation remains volatile,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for WFP.

Movement restrictions have been imposed upon civilians who now cannot get access to even clean water. Conditions of the sick and wounded continue to deteriorate as medication, essential medical supplies and fuel are also at an extreme low, with no new supplies allowed in. “Roughly 3,260 people [both fighters and civilians] have been killed in Yemen since March and the country is at risk of famine,” said Stephen O'Brien, the emergency relief coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on Tuesday.  

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