GENEVA (Reuters) - The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has given the United Nations permission to resume flights of aid workers to the Houthi-controlled capital on Saturday, but not to dock ships loaded with wheat and medical supplies, a U.N. spokesman said.
The coalition fighting the armed Houthi movement in Yemen said on Wednesday it would allow aid in through the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Salif, as well as U.N. flights to Sanaa, more than two weeks after blockading the country.
About 7 million people face famine in Yemen and their survival is dependent on international assistance.
The coalition has given clearance for U.N. flights in and out of Sanaa from Amman on Saturday, involving the regular rotation of aid workers, said Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“We’re of course encouraged by the clearance of this flight which may be followed soon by clearances of flights from Djibouti to Sanaa,” Laerke told a news briefing on Friday.
But no green light have been received for U.N. requests to bring humanitarian supply ships to Hodeidah and Salif ports, he said.
“We are particularly talking about one ship which is offshore Hodeidah with wheat from WFP (the U.N. World Food Programme) and another boat which is waiting in Djibouti with cholera supplies and that is also destined for Hodeidah,” he said.
“We stress the critical importance of resuming also commercial imports, in particular fuel supplies for our humanitarian response - transportation and so on - and for water pumping, Laerke said.
The largest fuel importing companies in Yemen have indicated they will no longer be able to supply the consumer market at the end of this week, OCHA said in a report dated Nov. 23.
UNICEF is also waiting to send vaccines, aid sources said.
The charity Save the Children said an estimated 20,000 Yemeni children under the age of five were joining the ranks of the severely malnourished every month, “an average of 27 children every hour”.
The commercial blockade is aggravating the food crisis, “leading to a significant increase in child deaths from acute malnutrition and preventable diseases”, it said in a statement.
The U.S.-backed coalition closed air, land and sea access on Nov. 6, in a move it said was to stop the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired towards Riyadh. Iran has denied supplying weapons.
Jan Egeland, a former U.N. aid chief who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to Reuters in Geneva on Thursday, said of the blockade: “In my view this is illegal collective punishment.”
“After more than two weeks of blockade of these ports, there are various kinds of supplies essential for fighting famine, for fighting cholera and other types of humanitarian threats that millions of people are facing in Yemen today,” Laerke said.
Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones