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UK experts call for immediate ceasefire in Yemen

Twenty-two academics, professionals and former diplomats warn of huge man-made disaster if fuel supplies not restored to the country
Workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the international airport in Sanaa on 10 April (AFP)

A group of UK-based academics, former diplomats and aid workers are raising alarm bells on an impending disaster in Yemen if world powers fail to intervene quickly and ensure the passage of humanitarian aid.

In a letter published in The Times on Saturday, the 22 signatories said they believe the situation in Yemen may easily develop into one similar to Ethiopia in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of people died of hunger due to a prolonged disaster triggered by conflict.

One of their biggest concerns is Yemen's shortage of fuel.

“The extreme fuel shortages caused by the current fighting are severely hampering the delivery of food and medicine to a population where there is already widespread hunger, malnutrition and displacement,” the letter said.

Fuel is essential for “running water pumps that bring water to Yemen’s cities and towns… to drive pumps on which agriculture critically depends…[and] to power fishing boats”, and “urgent fuel availability to both Yemen’s urban and rural populations is now critical for the livelihoods of over 25 million people".

The letter highlighted the need for an immediate and lasting ceasefire.

“The international community needs to act now to ensure a lasting ceasefire in Yemen and continuous safe passage of fuel and other essentials to towns and villages," the letter said.

Yemeni troops who helped Houthis seize much of the country, said on Sunday that they had accepted a Saudi proposal for a ceasefire. It remains unclear if the Houthis, from the north of the country, themselves have accepted a truce.

According to the signatories to the letter in The Times - including former British ambassadors to Yemen, Frances Guy and Victor Henderson; former Oxfam director David Bryer; King’s College London professor and author on Yemen and water security Tony Allan - a disaster remains inescapable if the situation is not quickly resolved.

“If this conflict continues, we will see a man-made disaster on a greater scale than any we have seen this century," the letter said.

The urgent appeal comes ahead of a meeting scheduled this week at Camp David between the heads of Gulf states and US President Barack Obama to discuss Yemen among other issues.

Reports out of Yemen over the past few weeks show the fighting has caused supplies of food and medicine to be severely disrupted.

Specifically in the southern district of Aden, many residents, forced out of their homes as a result of fighting, have appealed to the international community for food and drinking water.  

Coordinator and signatory of the letter James Firebrace welcomed the recent announcements of a mutually agreed temporary ceasefire and the arrival in Hudaydah of relief ships bearing fuel and other supplies. 

But he warned: “This ceasefire needs to be much more than a temporary humanitarian pause in order to safeguard the livelihoods of Yemen’s rural population, where around three quarters of the country’s population live."

"Fuel must also be allowed on a continuous basis to reach both urban areas, whose infrastructure is close to collapse, and rural areas dependent on agriculture, fisheries and remittances from family members working in Yemen’s towns," added Firebrace.

"Conditions need to be set for economic life to resume as soon as possible. To enable this, the international community needs to lend its full weight to the negotiation of a permanent cessation of all hostilities.”

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