UN Hopes to Stave Off Yemen Famine

GENEVA (Reuters) -

 

Hodeidah Port, Yemen.

United Nations aid agencies called on Tuesday for the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to remain open beyond Friday, the date set by a Saudi-led military coalition, to permit continued delivery of life-saving goods.

Yemen is the world’s current worst humanitarian crisis, where 8.3 million people are entirely dependent on external food aid and 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they said.

The Arab coalition, under international pressure, eased a three-week blockade which was imposed on Yemeni ports and airports in November in response to a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi movement toward the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Four mobile cranes arrived in the Hodeidah port, the U.N. said on Monday, after the coalition agreed to let them into Yemen, where nearly three years of war have pushed the country to the verge of famine.

More than 11 million Yemeni children – virtually all – need humanitarian assistance. UNICEF figures show 25,000 Yemeni babies die at birth or before the age of one month.

“Yemen is in the grips of the world’s biggest hunger crisis,” World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said. “This is a nightmare that is happening right now.”

“We appeal to parties on [the] ground, in order to stave off famine, that we can continue regularly to get food in, to get medicines in, to get fuel in, be it from the humanitarian or the commercial side,” she said.

In addition, a diphtheria outbreak in Yemen that is spreading quickly, with 678 cases and 48 associated deaths in four months, has worsened the situation, Fadela Chaib of the World Health Organization said. The number of cases has doubled since Dec 22.

“We can stop the outbreak by providing antibiotics and also vaccinating. Some 2.5 million doses of vaccine have been imported for a planned immunization campaign,” she said.