Fighting Famine: How Yemen is facing the 'world's largest humanitarian crisis'

In a week of special coverage, ITV News is taking a closer look at how widespread starvation is threatening countries in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Continuing our series Fighting Famine, ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery explains why Yemen is facing the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

Yemen's suffering is the largest humanitarian crisis facing the world today.

According to the latest United Nations figures, two-thirds of the population - 18.8 million people - need aid and more than seven million people are now facing famine.

The war in the Arab world's poorest nation will soon reach its second anniversary. The fighting has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.

But it's the effects of hunger and the threat of famine driven by that conflict which now loom large.

The scale of the challenge is difficult to comprehend. The UN's under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs updated the security council last Friday.

Stephen O'Brien says $2.1 billion (£1.7 billion) is needed this year to reach 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection” - but so far only 6% has been received.

As the world beyond looks on with continuing indifference to Yemen's plight, the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on April 25 in Geneva.

Yemen's humanitarian crisis is worsening. Credit: ITV News

During his recent visit to Yemen, Mr O’Brien said he met senior leaders of the government and Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa. All promised access for aid.

“Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicise aid,” he said.

Mr O'Brien warned that if that behaviour did not change “they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow”.

A group of leading British aid organisations launched an appeal for Yemen in December.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, whose members include Oxfam, the British Red Cross and Islamic Relief, believes conditions in Yemen are now so extreme that a massive coordinated aid effort is needed.

Yemen's civil war has raged since 2015. Credit: AP

In peacetime, Yemen imported 90% of it's food. Now, after months of blockade and aerial bombardment, half the population quite literally do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Basic medicines are scarce, disease is a growing threat.

In October, ITV News visited the village of Toheita on the Red Sea coast, where families brought out their children to show us the effects of hunger on their tiny bodies.

Saida's tiny body was ravaged with starvation. Credit: ITV News

Saida was 18 months old, but looked less than half that age. Her tiny body ravaged by starvation, she lay motionless and expressionless in her brother's arms.

“We have nothing to give her," said Ali. "She has diarrhoea and she’s vomiting. All she does is cry. She’s just limp like this all the time.”

One-year-old Younis was also wasting away. His father Omar was scared he would not survive. "What can we do” he asked, “who can help us? We have nothing, nothing at all."

Fighting in Yemen has already claimed 10,000 lives. Credit: AP

Back in October, the United Nations said there were 240 children in that village alone with severe malnutrition. Many have died, starved to death within sight of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The huge unloading cranes in the nearby port of Hodeida were bombed by the Saudi-led coalition hampering aid deliveries.

In the city hospital, a 15-minute drive away, children are dying of hunger. Doctors say they lack the supplies to help.

Doctor Marwan Mohammed warned us back in October of a catastrophe unless aid arrived soon: “They’re going to die. Most of them we cannot do anything for them. They are going to die. It’s very sad."

His warning and the alarm calls from many others in Yemen have gone unanswered as the country's descent into hell continues.

£1.7 billion in aid is needed this year to reach 12 million Yemenis. Credit: ITV News