GENEVA -- "Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years," the head of the international Red Cross says, describing the devastation from a conflict that has left more than 1,900 people dead since March.
Peter Maurer, fresh off a trip to the war-torn country in the Arabian Peninsula, said entrenched poverty, months of intensified warfare and limits on imports because of an international embargo have contributed to "catastrophic" conditions in Yemen.
"The firepower with which this war is fought on the ground and in the air is causing more suffering than in other societies which are stronger and where infrastructures are better off and people are wealthier and have reserves and can escape," Maurer told The Associated Press at his office in the headquarters of the International Committee for the Red Cross.
"The images I have from Sanaa and Aden remind of what I have seen in Syria," the Swiss-born ICRC president said. "So Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years."
The conflict that escalated on March 26 pits Shiite rebels known as Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are leading a U.S.-backed Arab coalition that is carrying out airstrikes against Houthi forces.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday that at least 1,950 civilians have been killed in the fighting.
Backed by the Red Cross' reputation for neutrality, Maurer and his delegation had an unusual opportunity to cross front lines in the conflict and assess the aid response. Sanaa, the capital, "is quieter than it has been before" and infrastructure in the port city of Aden appeared able to take in more humanitarian assistance, he said.
"The question is whether it will come," Maurer said, adding that people he had spoken to during the trip last week indicated that recent gains by the southern resistance have "not materialized in a dramatic increase in the influx of goods."
The Red Cross now has four offices and 250 staffers in Yemen -- about 50 of them from other countries, making it one of the most active humanitarian aid organizations on hand in the country.