The war in Yemen has pushed the country to the brink of famine, with both commercial food imports and aid deliveries held up by the fighting and millions of hungry women and children facing possible starvation, the United Nations warned.
Ertharin Cousin, head of the UN's World Food Programme, said that while some food aid is flowing in, fighting around major ports is stalling deliveries, while reaching the country's interior is proving difficult and donor funding is still falling short.
|The scale of human suffering is almost incomprehensible
- UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien
"If we do not receive the additional access that is required to meet the needs of those who are affected by this ongoing conflict, if we cannot support the commercial markets by ensuring that the ports are open and providing food to ensure that those who have resources can buy the food that is necessary, and if we do not see increased donor support, we are facing the perfect storm in Yemen," she told reporters in Cairo, following a three-day trip to Yemen.
The WFP says all sides in the conflict must approve food deliveries.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien, who also just returned from Yemen, told the UN Security Council "the scale of human suffering is almost incomprehensible."
He said he was shocked by what he saw: Four out of five Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, nearly 1.5 million people are internally displaced, and people were using cardboard for mattresses at a hospital where lights flickered, the blood bank had closed and there were no more examination gloves.
Since August, the food programme says it has been able to make 16 deliveries via sea to Yemen, accounting for over 123,000 metric tons of food.
But difficulties remain because of the fighting, which has caused port closures. The western port city of Hodeida was hit with airstrikes Tuesday night.
"We actually had a ship berthed in port that was not damaged but had not been given clearance to offload when that bombing attack occurred," Cousin said.
"We're bringing in food from Hodeida that because of the conflict we can't get to the south. We have a ship sitting off the port of Aden that has materials in it that we could use in the south, and we're still waiting for permission for that ship to come in," she said, adding that in order to access the rest of the country, all the ports must be open.
Oxfam's country director, Philippe Clerc, said only two humanitarian vessels have been able to dock and off-load at the Hodeida port in the past more than two weeks.
O'Brien called the airstrikes and shelling at Hodeidah a violation of international humanitarian law, saying they damaged "the main lifelines" for importing crucial food, medicine and fuel and could severely impact the entire country.
'I do not want to die like him'
|Abdul was four-years-old and he was killed by a sniper. I do not want to die like him
- Yemeni child
Nearly 400 children have been killed since the end of March, and a similar number of children have been recruited by armed groups, the UN children's agency said, warning that the fighting shows "no sign of a resolution".
"Basic services that children depend on have been decimated," UNICEF said.
As of a week ago, 398 children have been killed, 377 have been recruited to fight and 1.3 million have fled their homes, the agency said, but warned that the death toll could be much higher.
"Abdul was four-years-old, and he was killed by a sniper," Nada Nussir, a seven-year-old local Yemeni child said, "I do not want to die like him."
UNICEF said about 10 million children, or half of the country's population, need urgent humanitarian assistance.
More than half a million pregnant women in Yemen's hardest-hit areas are at higher risk for birth or pregnancy complications because they can't get to medical facilities, UNICEF added.
Arab world's poorest country
The WFP estimates that nearly 13 million people in Yemen lack proper access to food, with six million, or one in five of the country's population, in urgent need of assistance.
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, needs to import food even in peacetime.
The organisation is seeking financial support for a $320 million emergency operation programme it expects to launch in September.
Other organisations also registered alarm over the desperate situation in Yemen.
The UN's humanitarian office says to 4,500 people have been killed and a further 23,000 have been wounded to date, many of them civilians.
Human Rights Watch and 22 other human rights and humanitarian organisations said that the UN's Human Rights Council should create a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of war crimes by all parties since September 2014.
In Geneva, the head of the International Red Cross said "Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years."