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Millions face famine in Yemen as PM sacked

Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP | Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher attends the opening of a high-level conference to raise funds for war-ravaged Yemen, at the United Nations Office in Geneva on April 25, 2017
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The number of Yemenis on the brink of famine could rise to 12 million -- or two in five people -- from around 8.5 million in the coming months due to escalating war and a deepening economic crisis, the United Nations said Monday.


Yemen has been torn apart by more than three years of civil war between the internationally recognised government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition and based in the south, and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the north, including the capital Sanaa. The nation of some 30 million is the Arabian peninsula's poorest.

As fighting intensifies, particularly around the main port city of Hodeidah, and the economic situation deteriorates, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it feared millions struggling to make ends meet would succumb to severe hunger and disease.

"If this situation persists, we could see an additional 3.5 million severely insecure Yemenis... who urgently require regular food assistance to prevent them from slipping into famine-like conditions," WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said.

The agency is scaling up its emergency food and nutrition aid to reach 8 million Yemenis every month, he said.

The Saudi-led alliance, which is backed by Western countries led by Britain and the United States supplying weapons and intelligence, imposed a blockade on Hodeidah for several weeks at the end of last year, saying it was to prevent Houthis from importing weapons.

Yemen traditionally imports 90 percent of its food.

All its air, land and sea ports are currently functioning, but fighting around Hodeidah is preventing WFP workers from reaching its 51,000 tonnes of wheat stocks at the Red Sea Mills facility - enough to feed 3.7 million people in northern and central Yemen for one month, Verhoosel said.

Premier sacked over economic crisis

Reports of the impending famine came as Yemen's Western and Gulf-backed president sacked his prime minister on Monday, blaming him for the economic crisis in a country devastated by war, according to a statement carried by the loyalist SABA state news agency.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi appointed Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed to replace Ahmed bin Dagher, who is to be investigated over the "negligence of his government", the statement said.

The northern half of the country including the capital Sanaa is largely controlled by the northern Shiite Houthi rebel movement, while Hadi, whom a Saudi-led Arab military coalition is trying to restore to power, contests much of the south with separatist groups.

"This (the dismissal) was a result of negligence by the government in the recent period with respect to the economy and to administrative services," the statement said.

Saeed has been minister of public works in the cabinet, which operates from Saudi Arabia, since last year.

Bin Dagher has been at odds with the southern separatists and their main backer, the United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting the Houthis since 2015. Bin Dagher tweeted his congratulations to Saeed.

The Yemeni currency, the riyal, has lost more than half its value against the dollar since the start of the war. Authorities sought to boost liquidity last year by printing money when it stood at around 250 to the dollar, but it has now plunged in value to about 700 to the dollar.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said this month that the United Nations was discussing an emergency plan to stem the fall and restore economic confidence.


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