UN says Yemen famine can only be prevented with emergency £1.7bn

12 million people affected by the Yemeni civil war face ‘rapidly deteriorating’ situation, aid agencies say

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The Independent Online

The UN has launched an emergency appeal for $2.1 billion (£1.7 billion) to provide food and life-saving aid for Yemeni civilians caught up in the chaos of the country’s two-year-long civil war.

Around 12 million people are facing famine, with 3.3 million - including 2.1 million children - already acutely malnourished.

Approximately 55 per cent of the country’s medical infrastructure is out of action, and the economy and vital civil institutions have been devastated, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said on Wednesday at a briefing in Geneva.

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"Many of the people never make it to the feeding centres or the hospitals because they can't afford the transport," he said.

"Many people die silent and unrecorded deaths, they die at home, they are buried before they are ever recorded."

More than 10,000 people have died as a result of the conflict so far, including an estimated 63,000 children who died of preventable causes linked to malnutrition, Unicef said last week.

"If there is no immediate action, and despite the ongoing humanitarian efforts, famine is now a real possibility for 2017. Malnutrition is rife and rising at an alarming rate," UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien said.

In all, nearly 19 million Yemenis - more than two thirds of the population - need assistance and protection, the United Nations said.

Yemen has been plagued by unrest since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, with the country descending into full-scale civil war in March 2015.

The conflict has pitted Shia Houthi rebels, who currently control much of the country, against the internationally recognised exiled government.

Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda have taken advantage of Yemen’s chaos, establishing strongholds across the country.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab countries has intervened on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government since March 2015 against the Iran-allied Houthi movement in what Riyadh says is aimed at curbing creeping Iranian influence in the region.

The campaign has been widely criticised for hitting civilian infrastructure, including the bombing of a Sana’a funeral that killed 140 people in October last year. Roads, ports, bridges, markets and bridges across the country have also been hit.

Several Western governments – including the UK – have been rebuked for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which rights groups say are destined for use in the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition also imposes an air and naval blockade on the country, imposing strict restrictions on what can and can’t be bought in, and causing aid delivery delays, the UN says.

"In Yemen, if bombs don't kill you, a slow and painful death by starvation is now an increasing threat," Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement as the UN plan was launched.

Reuters contributed to this report

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