Yemen: UN welcomes ceasefire as ‘lifesaving’ humanitarian relief begins to arrive

Smoke fills the sky above the Yemeni capital Sana’a after a series of airstrikes (12 May). Photo: Almigdad Mojalli/IRIN

13 May 2015 – The top United Nations humanitarian official has welcomed the commencement of a ceasefire in Yemen aimed at allowing the delivery of “lifesaving” relief and aid to the country's civilian populations.

“I call on all parties to the conflict to respect this vital pause in hostilities,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) Valerie Amos said in a statement issued late yesterday evening. “This pause will provide a respite for civilians and allow the delivery of food, medical supplies and other essential items to people who have been trapped in conflict zones.”

Ms. Amos also extended her thanks to the Member States involved in supporting the UN's efforts and enabling humanitarian agencies and partners on the ground to provide the humanitarian relief.

Since the Yemen conflict erupted in mid-March 2015, over 1,400 people have been killed and close to 6,000 people injured, roughly half of whom have been civilians. Civilians across the border in Saudi Arabia's frontier towns have been caught up in the fighting as well.

Meanwhile, Yemen was already in a precarious state prior to the explosion of violence with the current fighting only fuelling concerns in the humanitarian community that the country would grow increasingly food insecure.

In 2014, a World Food Programme (WFP) food security survey found that 10.6 million people – 41 percent of the population – were food insecure with more than five million people severely food insecure – in need of food assistance. The current conflict will exacerbate the precarious food security situation because the country imports more than 90 percent of its food needs.

“Given the role of the United Nations in coordinating emergency relief activities in an impartial and neutral way, I request that humanitarian assistance to Yemen be routed through existing UN and international humanitarian organization channels,” Ms. Amos added. “It is essential that humanitarian assistance is not politicized.”

The Under-Secretary-General's statement comes as Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, arrived in the capital, Sana'a, where he hopes to meet the various Yemeni parties, in particular Houthi representatives, and the hope is that the pause can serve as a basis for a more permanent cessation of hostilities.

At the same time, the UN Security Council also reaffirmed its “strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Yemen, and its commitment to stand by the people of Yemen” in a statement released yesterday evening.

The 15-member Council called on all sides in the country to comply with international humanitarian law and welcomed any efforts aimed at supporting a political transition.

To that point, the UN body called on the Secretary-General to convene a conference of all Yemeni stakeholders with the intention of brokering “a consensus-based political solution” and called on all Yemeni parties to attend these talks.

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Escalating violence forces thousands to flee in search of safety. Credit: WFP