Aid agencies said Saudi Arabia had not fulfilled its promise to reopen humanitarian aid corridors into northern Yemen on Thursday, leaving the main aid lifeline closed for tens of thousands of starving people.
Following intense pressure from western governments, Saudi Arabia agreed on Wednesday to lift a fortnight-long blockade of the port of Hodeida from noon (9am GMT) on Thursday, but more than eight hours after the deadline, aid agencies said no permissions for humanitarian shipments had been given.
A UN source in Yemen said: “We have submitted the request to bring in aid, as we have every day, but there has been nothing. At this stage, we do not know the reason for the delay.”
Jamie McGoldrick, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, said: “There is a system where we notify [the Saudi-led coalition] and ask for space or time slots to bring our planes in, and we negotiate in terms of getting space on the port as well. We’ve actually gone through the normal procedures and we’re just waiting to find out how that goes.”
He said he remained hopeful for the next 48 hours.
Two aid shipments – one containing food, including grain, and another containing medicines to combat a cholera outbreak – have been waiting for permission to dock at Hodeidah for days.
Saudi Arabia also said it was lifting a blockade on the airport at Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, but no flights had landed.
It imposed the blockade on all commercial and humanitarian shipments in response to a missile launched by Houthi rebels towards Riyadh international airport, fired as part of the three-year civil war in Yemen.
Following a review of inspection methods by the UN and Saudi authorities, Riyadh announced on Wednesday that it would lift the blockade on humanitarian supplies, but not yet the block on commercial ships. Saudi Arabia claims cargo being shipped into the Houthi-controlled Hodeida includes weapons parts and ammunition destined forthe rebels.
Labour called on the UK government to suspend all arms export licences to Saudi Arabia until the blockade was lifted.
Fabian Hamilton, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman, said: “While we cautiously welcome the Saudi-led coalition’s pledge to allow UN aid into Yemen once again, the opening of Hodeida and Sana’a airport is not enough. Innocent civilians, including children, are still risk of starvation and malnutrition due to this brutal blockade that has already taken its toll on the civilian population of the country.
“We are continuing to call for the suspension of all British arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the blockade is fully lifted to allow both UN and commercial aid into the country. The British government must act to prevent any further loss of innocent life in an already catastrophic humanitarian situation.”
Care, one of the aid agencies operating in Yemen, said it remained deeply concerned that there would continued famine and further outbreaks of disease , unless all ports are open to commercial goods.
“Not only is the commercial import of food and medical supplies necessary for survival, without fuel Yemen’s water and sanitation networks will not function in a country already battling cholera. Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough to supply the basic needs and protections critical for Yemen’s population,” it said.