'Child dies every 10 min': UN, Amnesty call to stop Saudi-led assault on 'crucial lifeline' in Yemen
The UN has appealed for $2.1 billion to prevent the "starving of an entire generation" in Yemen.
But it says a lack of funds is not the only issue of concern in the war-torn country, amid reports that the strategic port of Hodeidah may be targeted by the Saudi-led coalition.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for the multi-million aid package for Yemen on Tuesday during the opening session of a donor conference in Geneva.
"On average, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes," Guterres said.
"This means 50 children in Yemen will die during today's conference, and all of those deaths could have been prevented," he added.
"We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation," the UN Secretary-General warned, saying that two-thirds of the population or nearly 19 million people need emergency aid in Yemen.
They include some 3 million malnourished children.
"There is no single country in the world where, today, children are suffering more than in Yemen," UNICEF's director for Mideast and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere, told AP.
Some 7 million people in Yemen are on the brink of starvation, Amnesty International said in a report published on Tuesday.
By the end of the conference, donor countries had pledged nearly $1.1 billion for humanitarian aid to Yemen.
"Saying that the humanitarian situation is catastrophic is certainly an understatement.
Today in Yemen we have teams on the ground and they bear witness every day of the immense suffering of the Yemeni people," Red Cross's regional director for the Middle East, Robert Mardini said.
To help the country which is experiencing one of the world's worse humanitarian crisis, a number of efforts need to be put in place, including "lifting the restriction on the movement of goods into the country, and also within the country," he said.
Efforts to prevent famine hampered by Saudi-led airstrikes – UN
However, money is not the only consideration to prevent people from dying of hunger and disease in Yemen.
The UN as well as other human rights and humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International, have strongly criticized the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
The country imports 90 percent of its food, 70 percent of which passes through the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah.
Recent reports suggest that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia is preparing a major military offensive on the port, which serves as a major entry point for humanitarian aid, UN said.
"The Hodeidah port is a critical lifeline...
Any disruption to the port would gravely hamper efforts to prevent famine," executive director of the UN World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley told the conference in Geneva.
The UN also criticized previous attacks on the port, saying that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have already hampered humanitarian operations to import food and fuel supplies.
Dozens of ships have to wait offshore for their turn to dock after several cranes at the port were destroyed.
Only one crane to offload cargo is operational at the port, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien told Reuters.
Calling for an "immediate lifting" of the Saudi-led sea and land blockade in Yemen, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov also told the conference there were "worrying rumors of an assault on Hodeidah."
The WFP regional director Muhannad Hadi told Reuters anxiety is growing about a possible attack by the Yemeni government and its Arab allies.
"We are concerned about facilities in Yemen because at this stage we can't afford to even lose one bridge or one road network let alone to lose a major facility like Hodeidah port," Hadi said, adding "It's impossible to have security in the country while people are hungry."
Amnesty International has also warned that a major new offensive by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is due to get under way soon, saying that the strategic western port city of Hodeidah could reportedly be targeted.
"As well as putting civilian lives at grave risk, an assault on the country’s fourth most populated city that seriously disrupts the functioning of the port risks cutting off a crucial lifeline to a country that is 80 percent dependent on imports exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation," Amnesty said.
More than 13,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the conflict between Houthi rebels aligned with Iran and a Western-backed Saudi-led coalition supporting the government, erupted in March 2015, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The coalition carries out air strikes almost daily, with the war having resulted in at least 10,000 deaths, the UN says.
"The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has flagrantly flouted international humanitarian law by repeatedly carrying out indiscriminate and other unlawful airstrikes in densely populated areas throughout Yemen," Amnesty said on Tuesday.
The London-based rights group added that such attacks resulted in "thousands" of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as "massive destruction" of homes and infrastructure.
"There must be no repeat of such unlawful killing and destruction in Hodeidah," Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International's office in Beirut, Lynn Maalouf said.
"The likelihood of a major operation in Hodeidah" should once again urge the international community to stop sending arms to warring parties in Yemen, Amnesty said.
In March, the organization condemned the US and Britain for supplying arms to Saudi Arabia.
Citing figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Amnesty said the US and UK have sent weaponry worth more than $5 billion to Saudi Arabia since Riyadh’s intervention began in March 2015.
Amnesty said this is over 10 times more than Washington and London have sent (or planned to send) in humanitarian aid to Yemen over the same period.
"In particular countries supporting parties to armed conflict have the responsibility to make their support contingent to greater respect and compliance of international humanitarian law.
If this very concrete step is taken, this will definitely alleviate the suffering of people," the Red Cross official said.