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Mar 15, 3:16 PM EDT

UN urges warring parties in Yemen to facilitate aid

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Responding to the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday urged the warring parties in Yemen to ensure that humanitarian aid gets to all affected areas, citing U.N. estimates that over 22 million people need food, medicine and other aid.

A presidential statement approved by the 15 council members expresses "grave concern at the continued humanitarian impact of the conflict on civilians," which has led to outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria and the threat of famine. It noted that the number of Yemenis needing assistance has increased by 3.4 million since last year.

It calls for "full and sustained" operations at all Yemen's ports and its main airport in the capital Sanaa for humanitarian and commercial imports including food, fuel and medicine.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned on Feb. 27 that conditions in Yemen are "catastrophic" after three years of war. He painted a dire picture of the impoverished country plunging into the world's worst humanitarian crisis and facing massive destruction.

The council statement, drafted by the Netherlands and Sweden, reiterates calls for a cease-fire between the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's internationally recognized government and Houthi Shiite rebels.

Yemen, with a population of 26 million, plunged into war in 2014 after the Houthis took over Sanaa and forced the government to flee and seek support from neighboring Gulf countries.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition responded with a campaign of airstrikes in what has turned into a devastating war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced 2 million. Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy.

Netherlands' U.N. Ambassador Karel Van Oosterom noted that the last council statement on Yemen was in June 2017 "and since then the humanitarian situation has really deteriorated."

He stressed the importance of its calls for humanitarian and commercial access and accountability for violations in Yemen, and its backing for the new U.N. envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths.

Van Oosterom expressed hope that the statement will translate "to real action on the ground" and an improvement in the humanitarian situation for millions of Yemenis as well as a desperately needed political solution to the conflict.

Sweden's deputy U.N. ambassador Carl Skau called it the strongest Security Council response on Yemen to date.

It reflects "the urgent humanitarian and security situation on the ground, but perhaps more importantly, it addresses the immediate steps needed to improve the situation and alleviate the suffering," he said.

The statement welcomes a U.N. appeal for $2.96 billion for 2018 to help more than 13 million Yemenis and a nearly $1 billion contribution from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have pledged to raise an additional $500 million from other donors in the region.

Skau said Sweden, Switzerland and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are hosting a high-level pledging conference for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on April 3 in Geneva to raise additional funds.

Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the statement "reflects a commitment of the council to finding a peaceful solution in Yemen."

Yemen's U.N. Ambassador Khaled Alyemany called it "a very important message," especially with relation to the humanitarian crisis.

He also said the government will work with the international community to pay salaries for 1.2 million government workers including health and education employees.

The U.N. has said the failure to pay them has contributed to the humanitarian crisis.

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