April 22, 2015 / 12:53 PM / 4 years ago

ICRC says Yemen situation is disastrous, seeks better access and funding

GENEVA (Reuters) - The humanitarian situation in Yemen is “catastrophic”, with deep divisions fuelling the conflict there despite a declared halt to Saudi-led air strikes, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement on Tuesday that it was stopping its month-long bombing campaign offered a “glimmer of hope”, but had yet to be confirmed, said Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director for North Africa and the Middle East.

“The collateral damage done to the civilian life and property by the air strikes as well as the ground fighting is absolutely shocking, particularly in the cities of Sanaa, Aden, Taiz and Marib,” Mardini said after a three-day trip to Yemen.

Rival forces fought on in Yemen on Wednesday despite the Saudi move, showing how tough it may be to find a political solution to a war that has stirred animosities between rival Gulf powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Political problems that are the foundation of many conflicts that co-exist in Yemen today have not been solved. There is no analysis today to see any sustainable respite in fighting in coming days, we need to prepare ourselves to continue to respond to emergencies,” Mardini told reporters.

The ICRC appealed to all sides to allow distribution of supplies and respect the laws of war protecting civilians.

Mardini said the humanitarian situation was deteriorating each day in the capital Sanaa, adding: “It is going from bad to worse almost everywhere in the country”.

Food, water, fuel and medicines were in short supply and food prices have soared.

“Sanaa has not had any electricity for nine entire days now ... No electricity means no water,” he said, adding that the fighting had displaced tens of thousands of people.

ICRC surgical teams are operating at a hospital in the southern port city of Aden, scene of the fiercest clashes.

Asked about restrictions on importing medicines, Mardini said: “We are committed through dialogue with all sides to facilitate the medicines for chronic disease, which, according to our information, are in the harbor in Aden.”

The ICRC appealed for funds to provide food for 20,000 families over the coming three months, bringing its 2015 budget for Yemen to nearly 45 million Swiss francs ($47 million).

Since the conflict erupted, it has delivered two cargo planes carrying 50 metric tonnes of mainly medical supplies to Yemen where it has deployed some 250 aid workers.

“Today the humanitarian needs are huge but our capacity to deliver cannot follow the pace of humanitarian needs. We have to secure our steps and make sure cargos we are sending are not being diverted and convoys won’t be attacked,” Mardini said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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