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Yemen facing 'immeasurable' but 'forgotten crisis' despite ceasefire: UN

Despite a ceasefire two months ago civilians in Yemen still face one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world, the UN says
An empty market in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden earlier this month. (AFP)

Civilians in Yemen are still facing an “immeasurable” humanitarian crisis nearly two months after a ceasefire was agreed, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Humanitarian access has improved since the fragile truce was declared in April, but UN humanitarian chief in the country, Jamie McGoldrick, called Yemen's war “an invisible crisis” and voiced regret at the lack of global concern given to the country, in comparison to other emergenies like Syria.

“The scale of the emergency is tremendous. The scale of the need is massive and the depth of the crisis is immeasurable,” he told reporters.

He said that while no part of Yemen had been besieged, a number of areas have proved extremely hard to reach since the conflict escalated in March last year, when a Saudi-led Arab coalition began air attacks in support of Yemeni forces resisting the Houthi militias and their allies.

On Thursday the UN said it was difficult to estimate the number of civilians reached with aid since the ceasefire came into force, but said it was trying to use a lull in the fighting to access needs nationwide.

“The ceasefire has provided us an opportunity to get to areas we haven't been able to get before,” McGoldrick told AFP.

Government services and the health system were hardly functioning before the conflict and “the war has all but broken them completely,” he added.

In May last year a group of UK-based academics, former diplomats and aid workers raised 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, the 22 signatories said they believe the situation in Yemen could 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.

More than a year later, a senior British Red Cross official in the country said that the crisis “continues to be one of the most serious worldwide".

Michael Van Koesveld, Yemen country manager at the British Red Cross said: “One in ten people – over two million Yemenis – have had to flee their homes because of fighting. Overall, 80 per cent of the population now needs humanitarian aid,” he said last week.

More than 6,400 people have been killed in Yemen since the coalition began its campaign against the rebels who have controlled the capital Sanaa since September 2014, AFP reported.