July 26, 2017 / 2:40 PM / 2 months ago

Red Cross urges West, Saudi-led coalition to resolve Yemen crisis

FILE PHOTO - A woman helps her son as he lies on a bed at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

GENEVA (Reuters) - Western and regional powers must use their influence on Yemen’s warring parties to end a two-year conflict that has exacerbated a huge cholera epidemic and left the country in ruins, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday.

A Saudi-led coalition is battling the Iran-aligned Houthi group, which controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa, in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million.

“Definitely we would hope that Western countries understand the deep crisis, the risk of this enormous crisis for international stability, for the stability of the region,” ICRC President Peter Maurer told reporters, speaking from Sanaa during a five-day mission to Yemen.

“I came here to urge the international community to take action and step up its response to this outbreak, which is - let’s be very clear - a man-made outbreak. It’s largely the consequence of warfare and destruction of public services,” said Maurer, after visits to Taiz and Aden.

He called for finding solutions to pay workers’ salaries and allowing aid supplies including medicines into the port of Hodeidah and Sanaa airport, both controlled by the Houthi rebels, to ease massive suffering.

Man drinks water at his house after he collected water from a public tap amid a cholera outbreak in Sanaa, Yemen July 4, 2017. Picture taken July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Yemen’s health system is in tatters, salaries have not been paid for 10 months, waste is “piling up” in the streets, and hospitals, water stations and other vital infrastructure have been attacked and destroyed, he said.

The cholera epidemic that erupted in April is still raging, infecting about 400,000 people, and despite signs of its spread slowing, could be reignited by the rainy season, Maurer said.

Man pours water from a jerry can after he collected water from a public tap amid a cholera outbreak in Sanaa, Yemen July 4, 2017. Picture taken July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

“The pace of increase of cases is slightly diminishing. Which does not mean overall the cases are decreasing but the pace is slightly diminishing,” he said. “The problem is most experts expect the pace to increase when the rainy season starts.”

Maurer said Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their coalition as well as Yemeni parties were all “critical actors to find solutions” to the crisis.

“I would also hope that those countries outside the region should use their influence to nudge these parties into compromise, to use their influence in order to find solutions,” he added.

Maurer said he hoped to “break the deadlock” over ICRC visits to detainees who are held by all sides, including by the coalition. He sought an “atmosphere where exchanges of prisoners can be negotiated between the parties”.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones

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