INTERNATIONAL Development Secretary Priti Patel came under fire yesterday after her department claimed it was launching a new offensive against Yemen’s man-made cholera outbreak — as the UK profits from the conflict fuelling it.

The minister urged the world not to “close its eyes” to need in the devastated country.

However, Oxfam, Amnesty and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) condemned UK “patch up” attempts against a backdrop of arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth billions.

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The Gulf ally is leading the regional coalition engaged in combat with Yemen’s Houthi militia, which took up arms to oust the elected leadership.

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people have died since the war began in March 2015, with most killings due to Saudi-led airstrikes and infrastructure — including hospitals, bridges, schools and residential areas — badly hit.

Meanwhile, the UK Government has licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including £2.2b of aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1b in grenades, bombs, missiles and countermeasures and £430,000 worth of armoured vehicles and tanks.

Sales continue despite evidence gathered by Amnesty International and other organisations that war crimes have been committed.

Westminster says it takes such allegations seriously, but that it has no proof of wrongdoing by its ally and client, which is also holding back supply of food, medicine and other aid through a long-standing port blockade.

Amidst this backdrop, the country is now suffering the worst outbreak of deadly cholera since records began, with more cases in a single year than anywhere else in history.

More than 360,000 suspected cases were recorded in the three months since the outbreak began in late April and the total is now nearing 500,000 following almost 2000 deaths.

Yesterday the Department for International Development (DFID), led by Patel, said it was renewing its push to tackle the disease with £8 million in dedicated funding.

However, the cash is being taken from an existing budget of just £139m for the year, which is expected to provide food and nutrition support for just 1.7m of the 25m population and clean water and sanitation for 1.2m.

Cholera is caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholera bacteria and, while those infected need medical care, chlorinated water supplies and careful waste disposal and hygiene can help control its spread.

However, lack of sanitation is helping cholera spread and charities like Oxfam are fighting a desperate battle in a country where all but one region — the island of Socotra — is untouched by conflict.

Patel said: “Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic disaster if the world continues to close its eyes to the urgent help three quarters of people across the country desperately need.

“The response by the international community is the only hope Yemeni people have to survive. UK aid is providing lifesaving food for 1.7m people, as well as clean water, emergency healthcare and sanitation to contain the cholera outbreak and prevent it from spreading further.

“The international community must follow Britain’s lead and join our efforts and step up support to avert famine and cholera engulfing the country.”

Responding, Amnesty International UK’s government and political relations manager Scott Dawes told The National: “Priti Patel is trying to patch up Yemen while her other government colleagues allow billions of pounds worth of UK arms to be sold to Saudi Arabia which is busily bombing homes, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure in the country.

“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s apparently reckless and indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen have killed and injured thousands of civilians, and made the country especially vulnerable to the ravages of malnutrition and cholera.

“If the UK genuinely wants to help Yemen’s beleaguered civilian population, it should end its huge flow of arms to Saudi Arabia.”

Meanwhile, Katy Wright, head of advocacy at Oxfam, said: “The government is right to highlight the crisis in Yemen and much more funding is desperately needed to get health, water and waste services back up and running.

“The only solution to the crisis in Yemen is an end to the war, and the Government can encourage this by immediately halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In prioritising profits over people, the UK and US are complicit in this disaster.

“Billions of dollars is being made by exporting arms while mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are paying the price.”

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “If Priti Patel and her colleagues really want to do what is best for the people of Yemen then it will take more than just aid.

“If they really want to meaningfully improve the appalling situation, then they must finally end their uncritical political and military support for the terrible Saudi regime, which has been responsible for inflicting so much of the pain and suffering.”