UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations on Wednesday declared its highest-level humanitarian emergency in conflict-torn Yemen, where over 80 percent of the population need assistance. U.N. officials have said the Arab world's most impoverished country is now a step away from famine.
Humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien convened a meeting of U.N. agencies early Wednesday, and all agreed to declare a "Level 3" humanitarian emergency in Yemen for six months.
The United Nations now faces four top-level humanitarian emergencies. It is already trying to respond to "Level 3" emergencies in three other conflict-wracked countries: Iraq, Syria and South Sudan. The U.N. humanitarian office says the declaration of a top-level emergency mobilizes U.N.-wide staffing and funding to scale up aid delivery.
Last week, the U.N. envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the country is "one step" from famine. He urged all parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause during the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan to allow desperately needed aid to be delivered.
An attempt last month at U.N.-led talks among Yemeni parties in Geneva failed to reach an agreement.
The fighting in Yemen pits Houthi Shiite rebels and allied troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against Sunni Islamic militants, southern separatists, local and tribal militias and loyalists of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The rebels seized the capital in September and swept south, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the rebels on March 26, and a near-blockade of Yemen's ports has made it very difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.
According to the World Health Organization's latest figures, 3,083 people have died as a result of the current conflict and 14,324 people have been injured, Haq said.
Haq said over 21.1 million people in Yemen today need aid, nearly 13 million face "a food security crisis" and 9.4 million have little or no access to water, raising the risk of water-borne diseases including cholera.
He said 11.7 million people have been targeted for assistance under a revised U.N. humanitarian response plan.