April 25 (UPI) -- A conference to raise funds for humanitarian relief in Yemen began Tuesday in Geneva with a goal to fill a $2.1 billion United Nations shortfall in aid.
Yemen was already Africa's poorest country before a two-year civil war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and government troops backed by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. The United Nations' World Food Program says that of Yemen's nearly 26 million people, 19 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, 7 million require food aid immediately and 2 million children are acutely malnourished.
"The situation is nothing short of catastrophic. What everyone tells you is that life has become unbearable," said Robert Mardini, director of Middle East Operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Only half of Yemen's hospitals are functioning, and those still in operation face shortages of food, medicine and electricity. A key port, Hudaydah, is essentially closed because of a partial blockade by coalition forces and the effects of coalition airstrikes, the United Nations said.
"Without further action from parties to the conflict and the international community, Yemen is at a serious risk of plunging into famine, with even more children's lives hanging in the balance," UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Geert Cappelaere said in a statement Tuesday.
The appeal for $2.1 billion is 15 percent funded, the United Nations said. It is hosting the Geneva conference in conjunction with the Swiss and Swedish governments.