- Associated Press - Friday, August 18, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. humanitarian chief decried the “man-made catastrophe” in Yemen on Friday saying air strikes and armed clashes have increased dramatically, with millions of people facing the specter of famine and “the world’s largest-ever, single-year cholera outbreak.”

Stephen O’Brien urged the immediate reopening of the airport in the capital Sanaa to civilians and the lifting of restrictions on commercial imports coming through the port of Hodeida, which handles some 70 percent of goods coming into Yemen.

“The Yemeni people’s suffering has relentlessly intensified,” he told the U.N. Security Council. “In 2017, the number of air strikes per month is three times higher than last year, and monthly reports of armed clashes are up by more than 50 percent.”

O’Brien said 17 million Yemenis don’t know where their next meal is coming from, nearly 7 million are facing the threat of famine and almost 16 million lack access to clean water and sanitation. The World Health Organization said Monday that the cholera outbreak has killed 2,000 people and infected an estimated 500,000.

“This human tragedy is deliberate and wanton - it is political and, with will and with courage, which are both in short supply, it is stoppable,” O’Brien said.

The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, told the Security Council by video link that “it is no secret that there are many merchants of war in Yemen who do not want peace.”

But he said the U.N. will continue working with Yemenis “to mainstream the language of peace and reach a political solution.”

Yemen, which is on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has been engulfed in civil war since September 2014, when Houthi Shiite rebels swept into the capital Sanaa and overthrew President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s internationally recognized government.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began a campaign in support of Hadi’s government and against Houthi forces allied with ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Since then, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been dislodged from most of the south, but remain in control of Sanaa and much of the north.

The war in Yemen has killed over 10,000 civilians and displaced 3 million people.

Cheikh Ahmed urged the parties to agree to reopen Sanaa airport for commercial flights and hand over the port of Hodeida to a committee of “respected Yemeni security and economic figures.”

The committee would work to prevent the smuggling of weapons and ensure safe operations of Hodeida, the smooth flow of humanitarian and commercial goods, and “the transfer of port revenues to support the resumption of salary payments to civil servants,” he said.

According to O’Brien, “some 1.2 million public employees - including 30,000 health workers and 193,000 teachers - have been paid erratically or not at all since October last year, accelerating the decline in essential services.”

Cheikh Ahmed said he met with President Hadi a few days ago to discuss his proposals, which he said are supported by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Houthi leaders have refused to meet with Cheikh Ahmed.

But the U.N. envoy told the council he received a letter last month from the Houthi movement and the General People’s Congress, a party led by ousted president Saleh, “reaffirming the need to build on what was discussed in Kuwait talks” on a settlement of the war. Those talks were suspended in August 2016 with no progress reported.

Cheikh Ahmed said that in response he has invited the Houthis and their allies to meet him in a third country to discuss his proposals “and turn them into agreement containing concrete steps which will avoid further bloodshed and alleviate human suffering.”

“I hope they will commit to join these meetings as soon as possible,” the U.N. envoy told the council. “Every day we spend lingering without serious action towards a solution means more destruction and greater loss of lives.”

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