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Blockade could push Yemen into ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ as 8.4 million on brink of famine: WFP

Thomson Reuters Foundation

As Yemen teeters on the brink of famine, with soaring food prices and fuel shortages, humanitarians called on Tuesday for the easing of a Saudi blockade to allow in life-saving supplies.

Although the military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war has eased its month-long blockade of ports, 8.4 million Yemenis are a step away from famine, the United Nations said on Monday.

“We are trying to help prevent a famine from occurring,” Stephen Anderson, Yemen country director for the World Food Programme (WFP), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.

“We will have a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe of a much larger magnitude than we currently face if commercial vessels carrying food and fuel can’t get in. It will be beyond the control of the humanitarian community.”

The coalition introduced the blockade to stop Iran sending weapons to its Houthi allies through Yemen’s main Hodeidah port, where most food supplies enter. Iran has denied supplying arms.

WFP, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Committee of the Red Cross told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the blockade has eased.

“Some commercial vessels are going in but it is not enough,” said Anderson.

“Our worry is the prices … People spend 70 percent of their income on food. … How will they make ends meet?”

Yemen, a nation of 28 million people, imports more than 85 percent of its food and medicine.

Problems are particularly acute in hospitals, which rely on fuel to run generators, medical charities say.

“It is layer on top of layer of challenges for the people in Yemen,” Djoen Besselink, MSF’s head of mission, said by phone from the capital, Sanaa.

“It is survival mode.”

The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and triggered a cholera epidemic that has infected about 1 million people.

“People are trying to adapt but it is so hard on them,” said Adnan Hizam, a spokesman for ICRC in Yemen, in emailed comments.

“Medical and relief assistance are massively needed.”