U.N.: Yemen import curbs endanger thousands of children

Restrictions on imports in Yemen are hampering aid efforts and threaten the lives of tens of thousands of children, the U.N. says

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Restrictions on imports in conflict-hit Yemen are hampering aid efforts and threaten the lives of tens of thousands of children, the U.N. warned Friday.

Yemen already imported 90 percent of its food requirements before the conflict began and much of its fuel, essential to deliver aid and keep critical health facilities running at a time of acute power shortages, the U.N. children's agency said.

“Fuel may run out in less than a week in Yemen,” said UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac.

“If restrictions on the commercial imports of food and fuel continue, then it will kill more children than bullets and bombs in the coming months,” he said.

“Humanitarian access to many areas is extremely difficult and we are frequently being blocked by parties to the conflict from going to places where people need us most.”

The spokesman said 120,000 children risked suffering from severe acute malnutrition over the next three months if health and hygiene services do not function normally and children are not vaccinated against diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and measles.

Boulierac said 2.5 million children under five are at immediate risk of diarrheal and other communicable diseases with sanitation systems collapsing.

“Diarrhoea directly leads to malnutrition and can subsequently lead to the death of children,” he said.

“As parties to the conflict continue to restrict commercial imports of fuel and food, prices have skyrocketed and people cannot afford to purchase essential supplies,” he added.

Saudi Arabia has led six weeks of air strikes on Yemen in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The air strikes have failed to halt the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and allied fighters loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and concern has been mounting over increasing civilian deaths.

The United Nations has renewed its plea for a ceasefire in Yemen, where weeks of war have now killed more than 1,400 people and injured nearly 6,000 -- many of them civilians.

Jens Laerke, the spokesman for the U.N. office of humanitarian affairs, said aid efforts had been hampered “as most of Yemen's airports are not open to civilian traffic, and transports by sea are subject to the coalition's inspection regime related to the arms embargo mandated by the U.N. Security Council” to stop weapon deliveries to rebels.

“An unintended consequence of the arms embargo has been that the (Saudi-led) coalition's inspection regime has hampered all commercial and humanitarian shipments by sea and air into Yemen. All cargo is impacted, not just food and fuel imports,” he said.

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