'Real risk' of famine in Yemen as death toll passes 3,000

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2015 12:48 PM

By Joseph D'Urso

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Conflict-ridden Yemen, where more than 3,000 people have been killed and one million displaced since war broke out in March, is at risk of famine, aid chiefs said on Tuesday, the day after the conflict's highest one-day death toll was recorded.

The situation is "clearly deteriorating by the day," said Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen, with food shortages making famine a "real risk", and electricity and fuel increasingly scarce.

In addition, U.N. officials in Geneva said cash pledged by Saudi Arabia had not materialized, and there had been serious human rights violations, including attacks on places of worship and United Nations offices.

Air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, and other clashes around the country, killed at least 176 fighters and civilians on Monday, according to residents and media run by the Shi'ite Houthi movement.

Iranian-backed Houthi forces are trying to restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia sees the Houthis as proxies for arch-rival Iran, which they accuse of trying to expand its influence in Riyadh's immediate backyard.

The Houthis say they are rebelling against a corrupt government, while local fighters say they are defending their homes from Houthi incursions. Sunni Saudi Arabia says it is bombing the Houthis to protect the Yemeni state.

Saudi Arabia pledged $245 million to an appeal for Yemen by the U.N.'s humanitarian agency (UNOCHA) but has not handed over the money, a UNOCHA spokesman said on Tuesday.

"There has been no disbursement so far," Jens Laercke said in Geneva, adding "the humanitarian operation does not stand or fall with that. It is a $1.6 billion operation and there are other donors."

Almost 15 million Yemenis need food aid, said Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme. "People are not resilient enough to absorb any more shocks," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Five mosques of the Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam to which the Houthis ascribe have been bombed, said Cécile Pouilly, a U.N. spokeswoman, while two United Nations buildings in Aden have been hit by air strikes, she said.

The crisis affects Yemenis in three main ways, the ICRC's Grand said. Many are killed directly by sporadic air strikes. Others are affected by ground fighting between the two sides. An arms embargo makes it difficult for aid to reach people.

(Reporting By Joseph D'Urso, editing by Tim Pearce; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)