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ICRC buying fuel to pump clean water in Yemen as 'last resort'

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday it was making a “stop-gap” purchase of fuel so as to provide clean water to one million people in the Yemeni cities of Hodeidah and Taiz for one month.

The fuel shortage in Yemen has become “critical” under the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade, partially lifted this week, leaving water systems in nine cities without fuel to run pumps, ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said.

“As a last resort and in light of the large and urgent needs...we are purchasing fuel to supply the urban water corporations in Hodeidah and Taiz with fuel, enough to operate their water pumps for one month,” Jaquemet told Reuters.

The ICRC is buying 750,000 liters of fuel for the two cities, she said, calling it “an exceptional stop-gap measure”.

The lack of fuel has a “cascading impact on several vital sectors” - water and sanitation as well as health and food, as prices have risen sharply, she said. Fuel is needed to transport goods and run hospital generators and maintain cold chains for vaccines and medicines.

Saudi Arabia and its allies closed air, land and sea access to the Arabian Peninsula country on Nov. 6, to stop what it calls a flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired towards its capital Riyadh.

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons.

A first aid ship, carrying 5,500 tonnes of flour docked in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea on Sunday.

“Humanitarian aid has started coming in and it’s a very welcome first step but we need commercial imports,” Jaquemet said.

ICRC trucks have brought medical material into Yemen this week, mainly badly needed dialysis material, she said.

A shipment of kits for treating trauma patients is expected to berth in Aden shortly, she added. “These war-wounded kits will enable surgeries for over 400 people and are to be distributed to 10 hospitals and 15 field hospitals across north and south Yemen.”

The ICRC is stepping up assistance to combat an outbreak of diphtheria in Ibb governorate, including protective equipment for hospital staff to avoid spread of the highly-infectious respiratory disease, she said.

Some suspected cases and 20 deaths have been recorded in 13 governorates, more than 80 percent in Ibb, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

Yemen is also reeling from a cholera epidemic, with 960,065 suspected cases and 2,219 deaths reported since April, according to the latest WHO figures.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans