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By Tom Miles
GENEVA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - A blockade of Yemen’s key ports appeared to have been broken on Wednesday as ships arrived with food and fuel for the desperate population, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an humanitarian aid agency, said.
A Saudi-led military coalition fighting the armed Houthi movement in Yemen has blockaded Yemeni ports since Nov. 6, after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward its capital Riyadh.
Although it later eased the restrictions by allowing U.N. flights and aid ships, that has not changed Yemen’s dire situation much. About 8 million people are on the brink of famine with outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria.
“Today for the first time (there was) a little glimmer of hope... the first commercial goods have arrived in port, and the first ships that were let through this iron grip,” NRC chief Jan Egeland told Reuters.
Egeland said the first food and fuel had arrived in the key ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, but it remained a trickle compared to what was needed, since Yemen’s population of 27 million is almost entirely reliant on imports for food, fuel and medicine.
“We need a lot of ships every single day and now we’ve had months with no ships, so I still fear the famine, I still fear starvation, I still fear epidemic disease in new areas.”
Citing information from the U.N.-led logistics cluster of aid agencies, Egeland said three vessels had berthed at Hodeidah with 87,000 tonnes of food, and one with 38,000 of food had arrived at the anchorage area of Saleef port.
There were seven other vessels with more than 177,000 tonnes of food waiting to enter Hodeidah anchorage area, as well as three vessels with 52,000 tonnes of fuel.
Yemen was “a nation collapsing before our eyes” thanks to a sanctions regime that represents “all possible mistakes” by the international community, Egeland said.
“I think we will live to regret those months when there was a Saudi-led, Western, U.S., UK-supported strangulation of an entire nation.”
He said the blockade was the main reason that Yemen was facing “epic starvation”, although he said the Houthis were also imposing many restrictions in the areas under their control.
He said the United States and Britain were generous aid donors, but their support for the coalition made them “to some extent complicit” in the blockade.
“Why couldn’t they stop it? It’s a question that needs to be asked again and again. I think it’s an outrage that there is no leadership on behalf of us humanitarians in many of these capitals,” he said.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Richard Balmforth