A malnourished child receives treatment amid worsening malnutrition at the emergency ward of a hospital in Sana'a, Yemen, this week.
A malnourished child receives treatment amid worsening malnutrition at the emergency ward of a hospital in Sana'a, Yemen, this week. YAHYA ARHAB

Famine stalks 11m in Yemen, 22m need aid

MORE than 22 million Yemenis, nearly 80 per cent of the population, need humanitarian aid and more than a third are at risk of famine, the UN says.

Nearly three years of war between Houthi rebels backed by Iran and a pro-government military coalition led by Saudi Arabia has cost more than 10,000 civilian lives.

A coalition-enforced port blockade prevented supplies from getting in from November in response to a ballistic missile launch.

The Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Saleef have reopened in a 30-day reprieve, but aid workers say they hope authorisation will be extended beyond the deadline of Friday.

Before the conflict, the now Houthi-controlled Hodeidah handled about 70 per cent of Yemen's imports.

Closing the ports again risked "catastrophic loss of life”, said Stephen Anderson from the UN's World Food Program.

Meritxell Relano of Unicef said getting fuel into Yemen was vital to power water and sanitation services. The country imports 85 per cent of its food and medicines.

The Saudi-led coalition has authorised the use of four US-funded cranes to offload goods from ships until January 19.

More than three quarters of the Yemeni population of 29 million need food aid, 11million are in what the food program calls "acute need” and 400,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a potential killer.

Disrupting humanitarian access would deepen what the UN had already called the world's worst humanitarian crisis, said Rosanne Marchesich, a Rome-based emergency response team leader at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

With 70 per cent of the rural population dependent on agriculture for food and income, sustaining production was crucial, she told Reuters.

But below-average rainfall, fighting and limited expensive imports such as fertilisers had pushed down yields, she said.

Yemenis had exhausted strategies to cope with the crisis and some were selling off their assets for short- term survival, deepening poverty and food insecurity, she warned.

More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict as a result of violence, a huge cholera epidemic, starvation and other illnesses.

Yemenis were facing "an extremely bleak outlook”, with continued conflict, high fuel and food prices, and disease concerns such as the cholera outbreak and the spread of diphtheria, the World Food Program's Mr Anderson added.

Diphtheria cases have reached 678 with 48 proving fatal. The outbreak is "spreading quickly”, the World Health Organisation said.