The warning by the official, Mark Lowcock, the world body’s coordinator of humanitarian aid, was perhaps the most dire so far regarding the blockade’s effects on what already is one of worst man-made disasters, nytimes.com reported.
Lowcock spoke at a closed meeting of United Nations Security Council diplomats who have expressed alarm over the deterioration in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.
The Yemen crisis has worsened since the Saudis imposed the blockade on Monday after a missile was fired deep into their territory by the Houthis.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s assurances that the measure was temporary while it reviews inspection procedures, virtually all humanitarian deliveries to Yemen have been halted, including at least three United Nations airplanes full of emergency supplies.
Over the past two and a half years, Yemen has been under heavy airstrikes by Saudi Arabia’s warplanes as part of a brutal war against the Arabian Peninsula country in an attempt to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement and reinstall the former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.
Lowcock said the Saudis must immediately allow the entry of food and medicine at all seaports, permit the immediate resumption of air services to the cities of Sana’a and Aden, and provide an “assurance of no further disruption to these services.”
Without such steps, he said, Yemen will suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.”
The World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, which has been feeding seven million people a month in Yemen, is now unable to do so, Lowcock said. “What we need is a winding down of the blockade to save the lives of those people.”
The Security Council, which has condemned the missile launching into Saudi territory, took no immediate action regarding the blockade. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, the Council’s president for November, said members called on all parties in Yemen to “provide unhindered access for humanitarian supplies,” a reiteration of the Council’s position.
Earlier Wednesday, 15 humanitarian relief groups expressed alarm in a joint statement that the blockade had imperiled lifesaving assistance to millions of people in Yemen.
The country is struggling with an acute hunger crisis that has affected at least 17 million people, more than a third of them considered close to famine. Yemen also suffering a cholera scourge that has sickened nearly one million.
“Given the current acute food-security crisis and cholera epidemic, any delays to the restoration and expansion of humanitarian access will cost the lives of women, men, girls and boys across the whole of Yemen,” the statement by the aid groups said.
They warned that “in the absence of clarity and detail from the coalition, worrying questions remain about the extent and duration of these measures and their expected impact on the civilian population.”
Without a quick end to the blockade, they said, “we fear an already catastrophic humanitarian and economic crisis will get substantially worse.”
The signers included some of the most prominent international aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and Save the Children.
Two and a half years of war and a crippling cholera outbreak have brought Yemen to the brink of collapse.
On Tuesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross pleaded with the Saudi-led coalition to allow Yemeni ports to continue receiving medical supplies, including chlorine tablets used to prevent cholera.
“Humanitarian supply lines to Yemen must remain open,” said Robert Mardini, the Red Cross’s regional director for the Near and Middle East. “Food, medicine and other essential supplies are critical for the survival of 27 million Yemenis already weakened by a conflict now in its third year.”
The Saudis have accused Iran of delivering the type of missile to the Houthis that was launched at Saudi Arabia on Saturday, which traveled more than 500 miles before Saudi air defenses shot it down it near Riyadh, the capital. Iran has denied the accusation.