THE crippling Saudi-led blockade of Yemen has reached crisis proportions.
As senior UN relief officials noted recently, millions of Yemenis may be at risk of starvation and disease. In fact, the Yemen imbroglio has been described as the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today.
Pregnant women and young children are particularly at risk as the country’s health infrastructure has all but collapsed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015.
The UN says 7m people are already on the brink of famine; if the blockade is not lifted another 3m may join their ranks.
While the country was already considered the Arab world’s poorest before the war, the hostilities between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthi-Saleh combine have battered whatever infrastructure existed.
Yet things took a turn for the worse after a Houthi missile was intercepted over the skies of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, two weeks ago.
This has led to the anti-Houthi coalition strengthening their blockade of Yemen’s ports of entry, which has had a strangulating effect on shipments of aid and other essentials reaching the Yemeni people.
As experts point out, the cholera epidemic in the country, which had begun to recede, may re-emerge due to the collapsed sewerage system and rampant unsanitary conditions.
While the Saudis have a right to defend their territory, it must be asked what this pointless war — particularly this brutal blockade — has achieved, other than punishing the Yemeni people?
Moreover, far too many civilians have been killed — in fact most of the casualties have included non-combatants — as the Saudis have bombed schools and markets.
In response, the Yemeni rebels have lobbed missiles across the Saudi border.
It would not be wrong to say that the Yemeni war has turned into a stalemate, and the longer it grinds on, the worse the conditions for Yemen’s people will get.
The blockade must be ended, particularly of the Hodeidah port, without delay, while both sides must work towards ceasing hostilities.
Negotiations may be a distant dream at this juncture, considering the rigidity of all belligerents, but a ceasefire to allow critical aid to reach millions of vulnerable people can and should be achieved.
Riyadh, supported by its Western backers, needs to silence its guns while the Houthi-Saleh alliance must respond positively if it does.
The Yemeni people have had enough of the deadly cocktail of warfare, famine and disease.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2017