UN warns of largest famine in decades

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Yemenis wait next to empty gas cylinders for gas supplies amid increasing shortages in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. AFP

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock warned on Wednesday that if a Saudi-led military coalition did not allow humanitarian aid access to Yemen then it would cause “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims”.

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthi movement in neighbouring Yemen said on Monday it had closed all air,
land and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula country to stem the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.

The move, which follows the interception of a missile fired towards the Saudi capital Riyadh on Saturday, is likely to worsen a humanitarian crisis in Yemen that according to the United Nations has pushed some seven million people to the brink of famine and left nearly 900,000 infected with cholera.

Mr Lowcock, who visited Yemen late last month, briefed the UN Security Council behind closed doors at the request of Sweden.

“I have told the council that unless those measures are lifted … there will be a famine in Yemen,” he told reporters.

“It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.”

He said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir earlier on Wednesday and called for an immediate resumption of humanitarian access.

Mr Lowcock said the UN’s World Food Programme was feeding seven million people a month in Yemen. “What we need is a winding down of the blockade … so that we can save the lives of those people,” he said.

The UN Security Council expressed concern about the humanitarian situation, Italian UN Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, council president for November, said after Mr Lowcock’s briefing.

“The members of the Security Council emphasised … the importance of keeping all Yemen’s ports and airports functioning, including Hodeidah port, as a critical lifeline for humanitarian support and other essential supplies,” Mr Cardi said.

The UN and international aid organisations have long criticised the coalition for blocking aid access, especially to north Yemen, which is held by the Houthi movement.

“Humanitarian access through the ports was inadequate even before the measures that were announced on the 6th November,” said Mr Lowcock.

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