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Top UN relief official in Yemen warns of conflict's 'catastrophic' consequences; urges humanitarian access

27 July 2015 – Witnessing first-hand the "shocking" devastation in Yemen's main port city of Aden, the top United Nations relief official in the country today declared that the humanitarian consequences of the conflict are "catastrophic," making an urgent plea for safe, unhindered access for aid workers and a major scale-up of funding.

"The intensification of violence and conflict over the past four months have devastated the city and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of the majority of its people. As has become all too familiar in contexts of war, civilians are paying the heaviest price," the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, said in a statement issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"I heard numerous accounts of death, hunger and utter desperation as mothers and fathers struggle to find safety, security and care for their loved ones."

Mr. van der Klaauw's remarks come just hours after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the announcement by the Saudi-led Coalition of a unilateral five-day humanitarian pause in Yemen, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on all parties to the conflict to suspend military operations and facilitate safe, unhindered access of relief workers to desperate populations throughout the crisis-riven country.

In his statement today, Mr. van der Klaauw painted a grim picture of the situation, saying the level of destruction in Aden and the high number of civilian deaths and injuries, estimated at over 23,000 nationwide, is a "shocking" testament to the suffering faced by the civilian population.

Counter to all the responsibilities that conflict parties must adhere to under international humanitarian law, the damage to critical infrastructure in the whole country, including hospitals, schools, air and sea ports, mosques, and residential premises is "unacceptable", he accused.

"I repeat my plea to all parties of the conflict to put an end to the attacks on civilians and to end the destruction of critical infrastructure, vital for supplying essential goods and services to the civilian population."

In Aden, scaling up the humanitarian response effort means urgently restoring healthcare services, repairing and servicing water and sanitation systems, providing emergency shelter to displaced families, increasing the distribution of food and basic commodities such as blankets, mattresses and other household items.

"We need to get children back to school and provide psycho-social support to the women, men, girls and boys that have witnessed and experienced unspeakable violence in a city that has seen some of the bloodiest fighting since the escalation of conflict in March," the Humanitarian Coordinator underscored.

Against that background, parties to the conflict must provide rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, he demanded. "Current access constraints meant I had to reach Aden via Djibouti on a twelve hour boat ride. We need more direct access and I call on all parties to the conflict to open all land routes and facilitate the use of air and sea ports to enable humanitarian agencies to rapidly deliver much needed life-saving assistance."

Explaining that funding is another immediate requirement, Mr. M. van der Klaauw reminded that the Yemen humanitarian appeal has received "only" 15 per cent of the requested $1.6 billion required for 2015.

"I call on all donors to show their generosity and solidarity to the Yemeni people in this desperate time of need."

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