By Mahmoud Habboush
DUBAI (Reuters) - United Nations aid organizations working in Yemen asked international donors on Tuesday for $716 million to fund urgent humanitarian aid for a state where nearly a million children under five are acutely malnourished.
A new U.N. report also said that 10.5 million of Yemen's 24 million people lacked sufficient food supplies, and 13 million had no access to safe water and basic sanitation.
Poverty was one of the factors behind a popular uprising that forced out president Ali Abdullah Saleh last year.
With much international attention now focused on Syria's civil war, the current administration is still grappling with the threat of violence from al Qaeda, secessionist sentiment in southern Yemen, and Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels who control swathes of the north.
"It is an extremely fragile situation, people are suffering and we want to make sure that the global community are aware of this," said Trond Jensen, head of office of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yemen.
"More than half of the population in Yemen are in need in some form ... of humanitarian assistance."
The Friends of Yemen, who include Yemen's rich Gulf neighbors and the five permanent members states of the U.N. Security Council, made pledges of $7.9 billion in September to address the humanitarian and budget crisis and upgrade infrastructure.
It was short of the $12 billion sought by the government, but the World Bank said at the time the pledges should be enough to meet budget shortfalls in the cabinet's reconstruction plan over the next 18 months.
Officials from a number of U.N. organizations said on Tuesday they were hoping to tap into these pledges for this year's urgent humanitarian needs.
Restoring stability is important to Washington and Gulf countries because of Yemen's location on the important Red Sea oil shipment route and the threat that al Qaeda will use it as a base for attacks on Gulf states or the West.
The U.N. report presented in Dubai on Tuesday, titled "Yemen: Humanitarian Response Plan 2013", said more than 431,000 people were internally displaced in Yemen, and that it was also sheltering 269,000 refugees from abroad, mostly from the Horn of Africa.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis fled several towns in the south in 2011 after Ansar al-Sharia (Partisan of Islamic Law), an armed group linked to al Qaeda, captured them, taking advantage of months of unrest that followed the uprising against Saleh.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government drove them out last year with military help from the United States.
"In 2013 ... the situation continues to be very fragile," Jensen said in his presentation.
"We expect to see a continuation of localized conflicts; we also expect to see that the population will have limited access to basic services."
He told Reuters that other regional conflicts, particularly the crisis in Syria, had diverted attention away from Yemen.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Andrew Hammond and Kevin Liffey)
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