Vaccines and aid workers arrive in Yemen after blockade
Posted November 25, 2017 7:36 a.m. EST
Updated November 25, 2017 12:26 p.m. EST
(CNN) — Critically needed aid arrived Saturday in war-torn Yemen, some of the first such aid to arrive since Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade of the country in early November.
Passenger planes carrying aid workers and around 1.9 million vaccine doses -- enough for 600,000 children -- landed in Sanaa, United Nations World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Abeer Etefa said. Three types of vaccines were sent to protect against at least eight deadly diseases, including whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis, diphtheria, pneumonia and meningitis.
A WFP ship carrying wheat flour also was expected to arrive Saturday at the Port of Hodeida, she said.
"To feed the 7 million people suffering severe famine, we need this kind of access on a regular basis, as we had before November 5," Etefa said. "We are hoping that commercial ships carrying food will also be allowed access to Yemen's ports soon, as the country imports 90% of its food and this is the only way to end the famine."
A plane carrying eight aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross also landed Saturday in Sanaa, a spokeswoman said.
"Today is a very good day, and we are very pleased," Iolanda Jacquemet said. "But there will be no relief for the 27 million people of Yemen until commercial goods are allowed in the country."
Missile launch triggers blockade
Wracked by civil war since 2015, Yemen is now largely split between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and an internationally-recognized government supported by the Saudis.
Early this month, a missile launched from Yemen was intercepted over the skies of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The missile caused no casualties or known damage, but it rattled the region politically, and the blockade was imposed shortly thereafter.
The closures cut off UN-supervised relief supplies and led to severe shortages of food and medicine. Before the crisis began, between 80% and 90% of food imports entered through the port at Hodeida and Sanaa's airport, according to Jens Laerke, for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Facing international pressure, Saudi Arabia's permanent representative to the UN announced on November 13 that his nation would reopen government-controlled ports and airports within 24 hours to humanitarian shipments. Two days later, the Saudi-led coalition announced it would reopen the Sanaa airport and the key Port of Hodeida for humanitarian purposes the following day.
The United States -- which conducted its most recent airstrikes in Yemen on Sunday and Monday in support of the Saudi-led coalition, according to Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon -- welcomed news that the blockade had been lifted.
"We look forward to additional steps that will facilitate the unfettered flow of humanitarian and commercial goods from all ports of entry to the points of need," the White House said in a statement. "The magnitude of suffering in Yemen requires all parties to this conflict to focus on assistance to those in need."
Humanitarian crisis unfolds
Stocks of vaccines have run low in Yemen, where a child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes, according to UNICEF.
The country also faces one of the world's worst cholera outbreaks in modern history. There have been more than 900,000 suspected cases of cholera in Yemen since late April, many of them in children, and more than 2,000 people have died from it, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
More than 8,600 people died and nearly 50,000 others were injured between the start of Yemen's civil war in March 2015 and mid-September of this year, according to WHO. More than half of the country's medical facilities have closed, cutting off much of the population from essential health care.