Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization called on Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade of Yemen to accommodate delivery of humanitarian supplies.
Saudi Arabia, fighting Houthi rebels in the impoverished country on its southern border, closed all airports and seaports in Yemen earlier this week after a thwarted Houthi ballistic missile attack on Riyadh led to suspicion that Houthis are smuggling arms into Yemen.
Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of ports on Monday, but Hodeidah, the port through which 80 percent of Yemen's imported food passes, remained closed.
In a statement Thursday, WHO referred to the situation in Yemen as the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 20 million people, including over 11 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. At least 14.8 million are without basic healthcare and an outbreak of cholera has resulted in more than 900,000 suspected cases. Some 17 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from and 7 million are totally dependent on food assistance. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children."
It added that a diphtheria epidemic is now spreading in the country, with 120 confirmed cases and 14 deaths in the past several weeks.
Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. Yemen Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said on Tuesday that northern Yemen has only a three-week supply of vaccines, a 20-day supply of fuel and a 10-day supply of gasoline.
The British humanitarian charity Oxfam International warned in September that Yemen's cholera outbreak could infect more than one million people by the end of the year. It cited WHO statistics indicating more than 745,000 suspected cases and more than 2,000 deaths in the country.