The UK has promised to deliver desperately needed food and fuel supplies for the millions of people in rebel-held Yemen who are living on the brink of famine.
An extra £50m will help stave off the “human tragedy” of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis for one more month, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said on Monday.
Ms Mordaunt made the announcement during a visit to Djibouti, the tiny African country across the Gulf of Aden where thousands of Yemeni refugees have fled – and from where UK aid makes its way to rebel-held parts of the country.
“Every day, parents are carrying their malnourished children to hospital because they haven’t eaten in days, and families are watching as loved ones die needlessly from treatable illnesses because they do not have access to medical care,” Ms Mordaunt said in a statement.
“UK aid will save lives with new food and fuel; fuel that will produce food, pump clean water to help stop the spread of cholera, and power hospital generators.”
The International Development Secretary also called for an “immediate opening up of commercial and humanitarian access into Yemen” during meetings in Riyadh with exiled Yemeni officials and the Saudi-led coalition fighting on their behalf in the brutal civil war.
More than 20 million Yemenis – two-thirds of the population – have become reliant on humanitarian help since the civil war erupted in March 2015.
Saudi Arabia and its regional partners have mounted an extensive bombing campaign on Yemen’s Shia Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa, at the request of the exiled, internationally recognised Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict to date as a result of violence, the world’s largest cholera epidemic, starvation and other diseases. Aid agencies warn the true statistics are likely to be much higher.
The Saudi blockade on Yemen’s air and sea ports was tightened for three weeks as a retaliation to a rebel Houthi missile that was intercepted near the Saudi capital of Riyadh on 4 November.
As a result, the number of people living on the brink of famine rose to eight million.
As well as aid, without unfettered access to commercial goods such as fuel generators, which power hospitals and treat drinking water, the country is still on track for a large-scale famine.
Rebel areas have seen increased internal violence and Saudi air stirkes since the Houthis killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh for switching sides in the war last week.
While the UK government has given more than £2m of aid to Yemen since the war began, it has also sold at least £4.6bn in arms to the Saudi coalition.
Officials within former US President Barack Obama’s administration worried the sales could amount to complicity in war crimes.
The UK is among several Western governments that been heavily criticised for selling weapons export licences to Saudi Arabia, which rights groups say are destined for use in the Yemeni war.