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Famine stalks Yemen as warring parties block aid, UNICEF warns

Khaled Abdullah, REUTERS | A woman holds a malnourished boy at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, on October 6, 2018.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has warned that both sides in Yemen’s brutal conflict are making it “impossible” to deliver and distribute much-needed humanitarian aid to the country, where some 14 million people are threatened by famine.


Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director, said both Yemeni government and Houthi rebel authorities were being uncooperative and that impeding relief efforts could accelerate famine conditions.

"Respective authorities are not enabling us to do our work as fast as we should," Cappelaere told AP in an interview from Yemen on Saturday.

Yemen has been at war since March 2015 when Houthi rebels occupied northern regions and forced the government into exile.

Accusing the Houthis of acting as Iran's proxy, a Saudi-led coalition backing the exiled government has waged an extensive air campaign, causing thousands of deaths.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that Yemen could face "the worst famine we have seen in decades" because of the continuing fighting.

"The urgency of the humanitarian crisis leaves no room for complacency," the UN chief told reporters, urging the country’s warring parties to immediately halt the violence.

Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, had earlier warned that "there is a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen" that could affect 14 million people – half of the country's population.

Diplomatic push

Earlier this week, the US government demanded a cease-fire and the launch of UN-led political talks to end the war, with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis calling for a halt to hostilities within 30 days.

The UN’s Guterres said more and more countries are engaged in helping create conditions for the warring parties to understand the need to cease hostilities and engage in serious negotiations.

He urged the coalition and the Houthis "to overcome obstacles and resolve differences through dialogue" at UN-facilitated talks later this month.

The secretary-general stressed that the immediate priority is to stop the bombing in populated areas and preserve critical infrastructure including in the key port of Hodeida, the main entry point for international aid and 70 percent of food imports that Yemen relies on.

The diplomatic initiative is being driven by the increasing threat of famine, but also by international outrage over the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which has put a spotlight on Saudi Arabia's role in the war.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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