By Andrew Hammond
SANAA (Reuters) - Nearly half of Yemenis go to bed hungry every night as political instability compounds a global food and fuel price surge, giving the Arabian Peninsula state the world's third-highest rate of child malnutrition, the World Food Programme said on Sunday.
Yemen has been in turmoil since last year's revolt against 33 years of rule by Ali Abdullah Saleh when already weak state control in outlying regions broke down as the army split into pro- and anti-Saleh factions and al Qaeda militants occupied some areas.
Forced to import most of its food needs because of a paucity of arable land, Yemen has also suffered from a rise in global food and fuel prices, WFP spokesman Barry Came told Reuters.
"Five million people, or 22 percent of the population, can't feed themselves or buy enough to feed themselves ... These are mostly landless laborers, so they don't grow their own food, and with high food prices they can't buy it either," said Came.
"In addition, there is another five million who are being really hard hit by high food prices and on the edge of being food insecure. So 10 million people in this country go to bed hungry every night."
The number of people receiving daily WFP food rations has risen from 1.2 million in January to over 3.8 million, but poor infrastructure and fear of kidnappings by tribes have complicated the logistics of providing food aid.
"They are really hit by fuel and food price rises ... but there's also political instability, conflict, terrorist activity and huge population displacement," he said. "Without political security and stability you can't solve the problem."
Thirteen percent of Yemeni children were now acutely malnourished as a result of the political and economic strains of the past year, giving Yemen the third-highest rate of child malnutrition in the world, he said.
Saleh was forced to stand down in February after over 2,000 people died. Came said there were now 500,000 internally displaced Yemenis after the fight with militants in the south and Saleh's 2009/10 war against Shi'ite Islamists known as Houthis north of Sanaa.
International donors pledged $1.46 billion in aid to the country of 24 million at a meeting in New York on Thursday attended by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who said the pledge would help Yemen avoid a civil war.
Donors, who include permanent U.N. Security Council members China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States, as well as Gulf Arab states, had already promised $6.4 billion but will expect more action on political and security reform in return.
Restoring stability has become an international priority for fear Islamist militants will further entrench themselves in a country neighboring top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and lying on major world shipping lanes.
Central government also faces a campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations by militants in revenge for army operations and U.S. missile strikes against them. (Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Sophie Hares)