Catastrophe if Yemeni port is destroyed, UN chief warns

PARIS • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the destruction of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, a vital lifeline for millions of starving civilians, could trigger a "catastrophic" situation.

Medics and military sources say at least 149 people have been killed in 24 hours of heavy clashes on Sunday as government loyalists, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, fight to oust Houthi rebels from the Red Sea city.

"If the port at Hodeidah is destroyed, that could create an absolutely catastrophic situation," Mr Guterres told France Inter radio yesterday during a trip to Paris.

The Hodeidah offensive has sparked international outcry unprecedented in nearly four years of conflict between Houthis, who are linked to Iran, and the Saudi-backed government.

Aid groups fear for the safety of nearly 600,000 people living in Hodeidah - and for millions of others dependent on its port for what little food and humanitarian aid trickling into blockaded Yemen.

Mr Guterres said: "The fighting must stop, a political debate must begin, and we must prepare a massive humanitarian response to avoid the worst next year."

He said there was "an opportunity to make the direct parties in the conflict - the Houthis, the government, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia - understand that this is ultimately a war that no one is winning".

There was "a consensus, between the United States, Russia, Europe and many states in the region, that it is finally time to end this conflict", he added.

"There is already a framework for a solution which has been presented to the different parties," he said. "The early reaction has been relatively positive, but in my opinion things are frozen due to the Hodeidah situation."

The UN is already providing food aid to some eight million Yemenis but that number could reach 14 million next year, Mr Guterres warned.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2018, with the headline 'Catastrophe if Yemeni port is destroyed, UN chief warns'. Print Edition | Subscribe