UN fails to push Saudi coalition to lift Yemen blockade
NEW YORK - A week after hearing dire warnings of mass famine in Yemen, the UN Security Council appeared powerless on Wednesday to push the Saudi-led coalition to lift its blockade of humanitarian aid.
Sweden called for a meeting on the crisis a week ago after the military coalition shut down Yemen's sea and air ports as well as borders in response to a missile attack by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels near Riyadh.
UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned at that meeting that unless the blockade was lifted, Yemen will face "the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims."
"All members in the council were taken aback by the report by Mr Lowcock," Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters on Wednesday.
"There are still huge problems and there has not been any progress on the... open humanitarian access through the ports of Hodeida and airport of Sanaa," both held by the rebels.
Skoog said he was "distraught" but did not indicate whether Sweden, a non-permanent council member, will seek another emergency council meeting on the aid blockade.
"We are concerned that not enough has happened," he said. "We'll see what the next step will be on that."
The United Nations has listed Yemen as the world's number one humanitarian crisis, with 17 million people in need of food, seven million of whom are at risk of famine.
More than 2,000 Yemenis have died in a cholera outbreak now affecting nearly one million people.
Last week, Egypt, a non-permanent council member close to Saudi Arabia, circulated a draft statement that condemned the missile attack on Riyadh but made no mention of the aid blockade.
Diplomats criticized the proposed statement as lacking balance and said they did not expect it to be endorsed by the council.
UN aid officials meanwhile have stepped up their appeals.
"The humanitarian impact of what is happening here right now is unimaginable," said the UN's aid coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, this week.
Stocks of diesel and petrol are running out in parts of Yemen because of the blockade, while the prices of basic goods have skyrocketed.
The UN's World Food Programme warned that current stocks of rice will run out in 111 days and wheat in 97.