The United Nations has called on the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to reopen an aid lifeline and allow food and medicines to enter the war-ravaged country.

The coalition fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen announced earlier this week that it would close all air, land and seaports to the Arabian Peninsula, after a rebel-fired missile targeting the Saudi capital of Riyadh was intercepted.

The Kingdom has blamed Iran for the missile launch in a broader conflict seen as a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and its Shiite rival, Iran.

Saudi Arabia called the missile launch an act of war.  Iran, while backing the Houthi rebellion, has denied arming them, leading to a further deterioration in an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in the country.

Stephane Dujarric speaks for the UN Secretary General. “What we do know is that the blocking of ports and airports and land routes could have a tremendously negative impact on the situation which is already catastrophic. We have some food stocks already in country that we’ll be able to deliver but you also have to imagine this sort of news can also have an impact on market prices where food prices may go up in local markets, fuel prices might go up as people start to fear the long impact of a blockade.”

The UN says the blockade has stopped life-saving aid from reaching seven million people with the vast majority of food imports entering the country through Yemen’s ports.

Fuel has reportedly skyrocketed by more than 60% in some parts of the country while the price of cooking gas has doubled since the blockade was implemented.

Jens Laerke is Spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Between 80 and 90% of food imports are coming in through these ports, prior to the crisis and if these channels, these lifelines, are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have already labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment. So, this is an access problem of colossal dimensions right now.”

Yemen was already among the poorest countries in the world before the conflict began in 2015.

World Health Organisation’s Fedela Chaib ays, “The situation in Yemen is really very bad, it’s also battling a very serious cholera outbreak. Since months, we are trying to stop it. We are seeing some progress in the decrease in cases, especially in cases of death, but not having access to all the government of Yemen will certainly impact our operation.”

The UN has reported some 14 000 casualties in Yemen, with over 5000 killed but acknowledges the actual death toll is likely much higher.