UN warns time running out to prevent Yemen famine

A girl eats boiled leaves from a local vine to stave off starvation in Yemen (AP Photo/Hammadi Issa) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

The UN food agency has said time is running out for aid groups working in Yemen to prevent a devastating famine in the war-torn country.

World Food Programme said new entry points were urgently needed to bring in humanitarian food aid and commercial imports and to address what it called a “growing hunger crisis” across the impoverished Arab nation.

Yemen’s civil war has wrecked the country’s already fragile ability to feed its population of 29 million people.

UN figures show the number of Yemenis who face starvation without aid has risen to 8.4 million. That number is likely to soon jump by another 3.5 million because of the national currency’s falling value.

The war pits Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who hold the north of the country, against a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of Yemen’s internationally recognised government. The coalition’s main tactic has been to bomb the Iran-backed rebels into submission with an air campaign in support of the government forces.

In addition, relief workers in Yemen are concerned over an ongoing assault by the Saudi-led coalition forces trying to take the rebel-held Red Sea port city of Hodeida. Nearly 80% of Yemen’s imports come through this port, including much of the humanitarian aid.

Save The Children said this week the lifeline from Hodeida could be damaged or temporarily closed by renewed fighting, reducing the supply of available food and fuel and further driving up prices.

The international charity also raised by 1 million the number of Yemeni children at risk of famine, bringing the number to 5.2 million.

Already, more than two-thirds of Yemen’s population does not know where their next meal is coming from, it added.