By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fuel shortages in war-torn Yemen could cause more deaths than the continuing conflict, which rages on three days after the start of a United Nations-brokered humanitarian truce, an international aid agency said on Tuesday.
The lack of fuel, caused by fighting and restrictions on imports, has affected food deliveries, water supplies and health services for most of Yemen's population, according to Oxfam.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition has been bombarding the Iranian-allied Houthi rebel movement - Yemen's dominant force - since late March in a bid to reinstate exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Riyadh.
A week-long pause in the fighting was meant to have started on Saturday to allow aid deliveries, but the Saudi-led alliance said it had not been asked by President Hadi, in whose name it is acting, to stop its raids.
"In Yemen, fuel is critical," Oxfam country director for Yemen Philippe Clerc said in a statement.
"Without adequate supplies of it, water pumps no longer operate, and the limited quantities of food and medicine in Yemen's main ports and warehouses spoil, as they can't be transported to the 21 million people in need of aid."
Yemen previously imported the majority of its fuel and 90 percent of its food, most of it by sea, but the Saudi-led coalition has maintained a blockade on imports in a bid to cut off arms supplies to rebel forces.
Since fighting intensified at the end of March, only one fifth of the fuel needed across Yemen has entered the country, according to the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA.
The lack of fuel has hit food and water supplies and left some 1.8 million children at risk of diarrhea, while 400,000 children could become severely malnourished, Oxfam said.
At least 120,000 children could die if not provided with clean water, adequate care and nutrition, the aid agency said.
More than 3,000 people have been killed and some 1.2 million uprooted within the country due to the fighting and air strikes.
In several cities including Taiz, Aden and Lahj, fuel shortages have left millions trapped in disaster zones and unable to flee to safety, according to Oxfam, which called for a permanent ceasefire and a lifting of restrictions on imports.
"Otherwise, this ever deepening, man-made and totally avoidable humanitarian crisis will drain the country of the few resources it has and push people to the edge," Clerc said.
"Without urgent action, shortages could kill more people than bullets or bombs."
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)