United Nations | The UN humanitarian chief has accused all parties in Yemen’s escalating conflict of attacking civilian facilities including hospitals and schools and demanded an immediate halt and access to the entire country to deliver desperately needed aid. Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council yesterday that over 2,000 children are estimated to have been killed or injured since the start of the conflict including at least 90 children killed so far this year.
O’Brien said the relentless and often indiscriminate nature of the violence was made starkly clear last Saturday when 30 people were killed and 40 injured in a strike on a busy market in the capital Sanaa. He also cited the complete destruction on February 24 of a health center in Bidbadah district in Marib governorate, reportedly by coalition airstrikes. Yemen’s conflict pits the government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, allied with a former president.
The Houthis took over Sanaa in September 2014, and the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against the Houthis in March 2015. The absence of a national government in many parts of Yemen has facilitated the expansion of groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Despite many obstacles, O’Brien said UN and its partners delivered assistance to over three million people in February, some 400,000 more than in January. He said the goal remains to expand aid to 13.4 million people this year.
The Security Council called for unimpeded access for humanitarian agencies and stressed that only a speedy cessation of hostilities will improve the humanitarian situation and advance a political settlement. Angola’s UN Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins, the current Security Council president, said members are discussing a new resolution on the humanitarian situation in Yemen because the situation is evolving toward a very drastic one before our eyes.
The UN envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who has been trying to arrange a new round of peace talks, briefed the council behind closed doors. In mid-February, Cheikh Ahmed said he couldn’t set a date for new talks because of deep divisions between the warring parties over whether a new round should be convened without a cessation of hostilities. Gaspar Martins said Cheikh Ahmed is making preparations and consulting key countries, and that talks would be held soon.