The UN-brokered truce between Yemen’s pro-government forces and Houthi rebels in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah “really needs to come into operation straight away”, the United Nations humanitarian chief told Al Jazeera.
Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, on Sunday told the network’s Talk to Al Jazeera programme, the ceasefire reached in Sweden on Thursday should quickly be “translated into a real change on the ground”.
“We’ve got the good news from Sweden – parties have agreed initial steps to de-escalate the conflict or to try to move things forward,” he said.
“People I’ve listened to – parents of starving children, people who have fled from their homes, sometimes multiple times – they’re not seeing yet any tangible benefit.”
Clashes shook Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeidah on Sunday after air attacks and deadly fighting on the outskirts overnight, residents said, despite the UN-brokered ceasefire.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthi rebels, were killed in Hodeidah province, a pro-government military source told AFP news agency. He said seven rebels were captured during an attack on al-Duraihmi, about 20km south of Hodeidah city.
Calling for the end of the bloody seven-year war, Lowcock said the results of the biggest ever survey of food security conducted by his organisation in Yemen showed 250,000 people were living in “the highest level of food insecurity, the catastrophe level”.
“Last year, the UN were feeding three million people a month, this year it’s eight million, next year it needs to be 12 million, that’s a mark of the deterioration of the situation,” he said.
“No one has won in the war in Yemen, it’s absolutely clear who the losers are and they are the starving millions of children and innocent civilians whose pictures we increasingly see in our newspapers and on our TV screens.”
According to sources from both warring sides and the UN, Houthi rebels and government forces will cease fire and withdraw from Hodeidah on December 18.
Yahya Sarea, a senior official of the Houthi armed forces, told reporters in Sanaa the ceasefire was set to start on Tuesday.
“We hope they will be true to their words, otherwise we are ready to respond,” he said.
A source in the Saudi and Emirati-backed government confirmed the date and said it was officially communicated to both parties in a letter from UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths.
“While the Hodeidah agreement states an immediate start of the ceasefire, it is normal that it takes 48-72 hours to be communicated at the operational level,” a UN source said.
“We expect the ceasefire to be implemented starting Tuesday.”
The UN is trying to avert a full-scale assault on the port, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and crucial aid supplies. It is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation.
The agreement, the first significant breakthrough in peace efforts in five years, was part of confidence-building measures discussed at peace talks that aim to pave the way for a wider truce and a framework for political negotiations.
Under the deal, international monitors would be deployed in Hodeidah and all armed forces would pull back completely within 21 days of the start of the ceasefire.
A UN-chaired Redeployment Coordination Committee including both sides would oversee implementation. The committee is expected to start its work this week, the UN source said.
Griffiths has asked the Security Council to pass a resolution backing the deployment of a robust monitoring regime to oversee compliance with the truce, headed by retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert.
The combatants are due to hold another round of talks in January to agree on the political framework for negotiations to end the war that has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned an urgent humanitarian crisis.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by Houthi rebels, who toppled the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Saudi Arabia formed a coalition allied with Yemen’s internationally recognised government which has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
Since then, more than 60,000 people have died, according to rights groups, and now the country is on the brink of a famine.
The interview with Mark Lowcock will air as part of a UN Special episode of Talk to Al Jazeera in January 2019.