ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A top United Nations official said Saudi Arabia alone should fund steps to tackle widespread disease and hunger besetting Yemen, where the kingdom has been leading a military campaign for two and a half years.
Comments by David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, were unusually forthright for such a U.N. official in criticizing one party in a conflict. Calling for an end to the coalition’s campaign, he accused the Saudi-led coalition of hampering provision of aid.
“Saudi Arabia should fund 100 percent (of the needs) of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” he said, speaking to Reuters in Ethiopia during a trip to drought-affected areas. “Either stop the war or fund the crisis. Option three is, do both of them.”
At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war while widespread hunger and an unprecedented cholera epidemic have led aid agencies to describe Yemen as one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Beasley’s comments.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman donated $66 million in June to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization (WHO) to help combat the cholera epidemic there.
The kingdom says hundreds of millions of dollars it has pledged to humanitarian programs has benefited civilians on both sides of Yemen’s conflict.
The conflict pits Yemen’s internationally recognized government backed by the coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2015 and continues to control the country’s main population centers in the north and west.
The coalition has launched thousands of air strikes in a so far unsuccessful bid to dislodge the Houthis from power and have imposed a near blockade on Yemen’s ports, borders and airspace.
Saudi Arabia and its allies say they aim to prevent arms shipments to the Houthis, but aid groups say the curbs have deepened the suffering of millions.
Aid agencies have called for greater access to the Houthi-run north, and the U.N. has accused the coalition of restricting entry to vessels bound for the key Red Sea port of Hodeidah through which around 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports once arrived.
But five cranes at the port have been destroyed by air strikes, forcing dozens of ships to line up offshore because they cannot be unloaded.
“We are having problems with access,” Beasley said.
“The Saudis have created serious complications for us because of the port being blockaded to a certain degree, and the destroying of the cranes at Hodeidah port ... That has substantially reduced our capacity to bring food in.”
Beasley added that coalition restrictions had obstructed the delivery of fuel needed by U.N. vehicles which travel in and out of Sanaa carrying aid and personnel.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says two million people have been forced by the fighting to flee their homes while cholera has killed 2,000 people and infected 600,000.
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by George Obulutsa and Noah Browning