The World Food Programme warned Wednesday of "all the signs" of famine unfolding in Yemen, where malnourished children are at risk of irreversible harm, unless warring parties allow aid agencies full access to all areas.
Ertharin Cousin, the WFP director who was in Yemen for three days, was speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, a day after a Saudi-led alliance bombed the port of Hodeida, the main access point for aid to the north of the country, putting it out of action.
The coalition — which backs exiled President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and has been carrying out an air campaign against the Houthi rebels — has implemented a naval blockade of Yemen, requiring aid and trading vessels to seek individual permission to dock.
The conflict has also pitted Houthi rebels and allied military units against a range of local opponents, southern secessionists, Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda militants.
These warring parties on the ground have also held up aid access. Asked which parties were most responsible for delays, Cousin said: "There's enough blame to go around."
The WFP director warned that "all the signs" of a famine "are developing in front of our eyes today," and that "the people of Yemen cannot wait for a political solution."
The UN agency released survey results showing that 5-6 million Yemenis are "severely food insecure," depending on "diets of bread and rice, with oil and sweet tea." As many are considered "moderately food insecure."
Cousin said she had met mothers who were only able to give their children tea in the morning and bread and sugar in the evening.
"These are all children that are under five years of age," she said.
"When you can see a baby with malnutrition — that requires us to reach them regularly so as to avoid irreparable harm due to lack of micronutrients," Cousin said. "We know what is required for her. What we need is all parties to give us access."
Some 1.7 million children are suffering from malnutrition, with half a million of them severely malnourished, WFP aid.
The 1.3 million people displaced by the current and previous conflicts are at greatest risk.
WFP appealed to the international community for support for an emergency operation due to start in September and reaching four million people per month for six months.
The operation, at a cost of $320 million, "would provide nutritional support for children under two and pregnant and lactating mothers as well as vulnerably internally displaced people who have left their homes with nothing," Cousin said.
Sources in Hodeida, meanwhile, said the port remained out of action Wednesday because of the damage to its cranes in the airstrikes.
There was only "sporadic" access by the alternative route to the north of the country, overland across the Saudi border, Cousin said.
"Serious damage to the port will potentially deprive millions of people of food and prevent importation of fuel which is necessary to run health facilities, flour mills and water and sanitation works," UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Johannes van der Klaauw warned.
Earlier, UN children's agency UNICEF said at least 398 children have been killed in Yemen since conflict broke out this year, and another 605 injured.
Van der Klaauw put the overall casualty figures in the conflict at 4,500.
The fighting intensified in March when the Houthis advanced on the southern port of Aden, forcing Hadi to flee the country and prompting the Saudi-led campaign.
The rebels, who have controlled the capital Sanaa since September, have in recent weeks suffered a series of defeats at the hands of their Saudi-backed rivals in southern and central Yemen.
By Pol O Gradaigh
© 2019 dpa GmbH