UN says food being used as ‘weapon of war’ in Yemen
RIYADH - Beyond air raids, gun battles and port blockades, food is now a "weapon of war" in Yemen, the UN's World Food Programme said on Sunday, as millions face impending famine.
"Yemen is on the brink of famine. Cholera is compounding a dramatic food crisis. Food is being used as a weapon of war," WFP assistant executive director Elisabeth Rasmussen said at a conference on aid to Yemen hosted by Saudi Arabia.
The Yemen conflict has claimed more than 8,650 lives since 2015, when a powerful military coalition led by Saudi Arabia joined the government's fight against Iran-backed Huthi rebels and their ally, strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Long the most impoverished country in the Arab world, the conflict in Yemen has left seven million people at risk of famine and an estimated 17 million -- 60 percent of the overall population -- food insecure, according to the United Nations.
Another 2,100 people have died of cholera since April as hospitals struggle to secure basic supplies amid blockades on ports and the country's main international airport.
Both sides in the conflict stand accused of failing to protect civilians in what the UN has called the "largest humanitarian crisis in the world".
The Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemen's airspace and some ports, was this month added to a UN blacklist for the "killing and maiming of children".
While the roads inside the Yemeni capital are controlled by the Huthis and former president Saleh, travel to Sanaa airport is under the control of the coalition and limited to a select few aid flights.
Aid groups have warned that the closure of Sanaa international airport is hampering the delivery of desperately needed supplies, which now have to go through the Red Sea port of Hodeida.
"All parties to the conflict must provide safe, rapid, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access to people in need, through all ports and airports, in particular through Hodeida port and Sanaa airport as well as by road," said Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs.
"People in positions of authority in Sanaa regularly deny access to humanitarian agencies and have arbitrarily delayed or denied dozens of requests for humanitarian personnel to enter the country," Lowcock said.