UN humanitarian agency says the risk of large-scale famine in the Arab world’s poorest country “has never been more acute."

Aftermath of bombardment on a home near Yemen's strategic rebel-held Red Sea port of Hudaida where several civilians including a child were killed on February 28, 2021.
Aftermath of bombardment on a home near Yemen's strategic rebel-held Red Sea port of Hudaida where several civilians including a child were killed on February 28, 2021. (AFP)

UN humanitarian agency has warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen would go hungry this year, with already some half a million people in the war-torn country living in famine-like conditions.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said on Sunday the risk of large-scale famine in the Arab world’s poorest country “has never been more acute,” adding that the years-long conflict, economic decline, and institutional collapse created enormous humanitarian needs in all sectors.

The stark warning comes a day before a pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland. 

In the port city of Hudaida, meanwhile, an overnight explosion hit a residential area in al Hawal district, killing at least five civilians and wounding three others, the UN mission in the strategic city said on Sunday.

READ MORE: 400,000 Yemeni children under 5 in danger of death by acute malnutrition

UN relief aid

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will appeal for $3.85 billion in relief aid for Yemen this year.

The response to the UN appeal is unlikely to meet expectations, given that the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences hit economies around the globe. 

Wealthy Gulf donors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which contributed generously to UN appeals in 2018 and 2019, cut back drastically on aid to Yemen last year amid the pandemic and corruption in Yemen aid efforts.

READ MORE: World leaders must act now to save Yemen

Yemen's war

Yemen’s war started in 2014 when the Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. 

The Saudi-led, US-backed coalition intervened months later to dislodge the rebels and restore the internationally recognised government. 

The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The majority of Yemen's population lives in Houthi-held areas. The rebels have been implicated in stealing aid and using aid access to extort concessions and money. 

The US, one of the largest donors to Yemen, already suspended millions of dollars in aid to Houthi-controlled areas after reports of theft and looting of relief supplies. 

UN agencies have long complained of rebels stealing and rerouting food aid.

READ MORE: Dozens of fighters killed in Yemen clashes – government sources

UN condemns Hudaida attack

The United Nations on Sunday condemned an attack in Yemen's disputed Hudaida governorate that killed five civilians including a woman and child.

UNMHA, the mission overseeing a fragile peace deal in the Red Sea coastal area, did not specify the source of the attack that hit a house in Al Hawak residential area late on Saturday.

It said in a statement that the district had witnessed increasingly intense exchange of fire in recent months between the Saudi-led military coalition that backs the internationally recognised government and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Pro-government website alsahil.net said the house was struck by Houthi mortar fire. The Houthi-run Al Masirah channel blamed coalition air strikes.

The Hudaida pact reached at UN-sponsored peace talks in 2018 had stipulated a redeployment of troops from both sides but it was never fully implemented, though a truce had largely held.

READ MORE: Exclusive: Yemeni captives share five-year nightmare in Houthi prisons

New humanitarian crisis

Monday’s pledging conference comes as the Iranian-backed Houthis renewed their offensive on the central province of Marib, stoking fears of a new humanitarian crisis in a region that hosts the largest displaced population in the country, according to local authorities.

The province, the location of the ancient Great Marib Dam, has served as a sort of haven for around 1 million Yemenis who have fled Houthi offensives since the start of the war, according to UN figures.

The rebels have renewed their attacks on the oil-rich province, a holdout against them, but have faced stiff resistance and heavy airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition. 

Hundreds, mostly Houthis, have died in the fighting.

OCHA said the fighting in Marib has displaced more than 8,000 civilian people, particularly from the district of Sirwah, which hosts around 30,000 displaced people in at least 14 camps. Sirwah has seen the heaviest fighting, it said.

The agency warned about possible displacement of another 380,000 people if fighting reached the actual city of Marib, capital of the province, where camps for displaced people are already crowded.

READ MORE: The dangerous fight for Yemen's oil-rich Marib

Source: TRTWorld and agencies