Yemen's president urges Houthis to allow humanitarian aid


Yemen's embattled and exiled president on Thursday urged his government's rival, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to stop impeding the flow of urgently needed humanitarian aid following a warning from the UN humanitarian chief last week that "the specter of famine" has returned to the conflict-torn country.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's plea came in a pre-recorded speech to the UN General Assembly's ministerial meeting being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It aired more than a week after Human Rights Watch warned that all sides in Yemen's conflict were interfering with the arrival of food, health care supplies, water and sanitation support.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council last week that famine in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, was averted two years ago because donors swiftly met 90 per cent of the UN's funding requirements. But the UN's latest figures show that the current $3.4 billion appeal is less than 38 per cent funded, including new funding from Saudi Arabia of more than $200 million.

Lowcock had singled out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait on 15 September for giving nothing to the appeal, leaving 9 million Yemenis to cope with deepening cuts to aid programmes including food, water and health care.

He said aid agencies continue to face challenges, including insecurity and bureaucratic impediments, in delivering food, medicine and other essential items in southern Yemen, but the challenges are less severe than in the Houthi-controlled north, where authorities have closed the airport in the capital, Sanaa, to UN and humanitarian flights.

The Houthis said this was due to fuel shortages, Lowcock said, "but that does not justify closing the airport," which is critical for delivering aid.

In his speech, the Yemeni president also asked the Houthis to allow a UN team immediate access to an abandoned oil tanker that risks causing massive environmental damage to the Red Sea.

Lowcock said last week that a new UN proposal to assess and carry out initial repairs on the Safer oil tanker was being discussed with the Houthis. "We hope the new proposal will be quickly approved so the work can start," he said.

Hadi spoke from Saudi Arabia, where he has been living during the more than five-year war that has ravaged Yemen, on the western tip of the Arabian Peninsula.  He represents the internationally recognised government of Yemen that was pushed out of Sanaa in late 2014 by the Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi has been at war in Yemen ever since, producing a humanitarian disaster. Millions have been displaced, pushed into poverty and live on the brink of famine. (AP)

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