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UN: Yemen facing massive famine if blockade not lifted

Yemen to be hit by mass famine crisis if Saudi-led alliance does not allow aid into the country, top UN official warns.

massive famine

Millions of people will die in Yemen, in what will be the world's worst famine crisis in decades, unless a Saudi-led military coalition ends a devastating blockade and allows aid into the country, the UN has warned.

The Saudi-led alliance fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels tightened its air, land and sea closing off of the country after a ballistic missile was fired on Saturday towards the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Since then, the country's already inflated food and fuel prices have skyrocketed, while flights delivering much-needed humanitarian aid have been prevented from landing.

After briefing the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Mark Lowcock, the UN's humanitarian chief, said the move will worsen a "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the brink of famine and has caused a mass cholera epidemic.

"I have told the Council that unless those measures are lifted ... there will be a famine in Yemen," Lowcock, who visited Yemen late in October, told reporters on Wednesday.

"It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year. where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011," he added.

"It will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims."

'Guarded response'

Despite Lowcock's stark warning, the Security Council, which strongly condemned the firing of the missile by the Houthi rebels, announced no immediate action over the blockade.

Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, who holds the council's presidency, expressed concern about the "dire humanitarian situation in Yemen" and stressed "the importance of keeping all Yemen's ports and airports functioning," added Cardi.

Yemen has been devastated by more than two and a half years of war after Houthi rebels, believed to be backed by Iran, captured the capital, Sanaa, and overthrew President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government.

A Saudi-led coalition was formed in 2015 to fight the Houthi rebels and army troops allied with them.

According to the UN, the conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and left over seven million in need of food assistance.

Millions of others do not have adequate access to health, water and sanitation services.

The country has also been hit a cholera outbreak, with some 900,000 suspected cases since April.

mlitary-action

Dire situation

Calling for a five-point action plan, Lowcock on Wednesday urged the Saudi-led coalition to reopen the airspace for humanitarian flights into Yemen and provide an assurance the access will not be disrupted again. 

He also called for an agreement to allow a World Food Programme ship be positioned off the Yemeni coast, the re-opening of all sea ports, to allow food, fuel and medical supplies to enter the country, and a "scaling back of interference" with vessels that have "passed inspection by the UN verification and inspection mechanism".

Earlier on Wednesday, 15 humanitarian agencies expressed deep concern about the Saudi-led blockade, demanding that humanitarian operations are allowed to resume immediately.

"In less than a day, this blockade already hiked up fuel prices in some governorates by as much as 60 percent as people scramble to stock up, and led to disruption of public transportation," the groups, including Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.

"The closure of all sea and land ports means urgently-needed lifesaving medical supplies have ceased, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people."

Saudi Arabia said the closure of was aimed at preventing the smuggling of weapons into Yemen, and accused its regional rival Iran of providing the missile that was launched by the Houthis on Saturday.

Iran has denied the accusation.


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