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U.N.: Fighting could turn Yemen food crisis into world's worst famine

By Nicholas Sakelaris
U.N.: Fighting could turn Yemen food crisis into world's worst famine
Workers unload emergency medical aid of 1.9 million doses of vaccines supplied by UNICEF at Sana'a International Airport. Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Severe hunger in Yemen could devolve into the worst famine in world history -- and threaten the lives of more than a million mothers, a new United Nations report says.

The Yemeni civil war, now in its fourth year, has made it difficult to get humanitarian aid into the country and has raised the risk of premature or low-birth weight babies, severe postpartum bleeding and extremely life-threatening labor processes, the U.N. Fund for Populations Activities report said.

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"There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen: much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives," Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council last week.

Regular fighting and bombings from the skies has hastened Yemen's food crisis. In August, a coalition airstrike hit a hospital in Hudaydah that provides neo-natal and emergency care for women.

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Noha, a midwife at the hospital, said it's like being in hell.

"Now pregnant women prefer to give birth at home, where they are exposed to many risks and problems. They do not come to the hospital out of fear for their lives," she told the U.N. agency.

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Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis urged the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthis to stop their attacks within 30 days so peace talks can begin. The Trump administration has acknowledged that Saudi airstrikes are harming civilians.

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Yemen's internationally-recognized government said it's ready to resume peace talks with rebels.

The Saudi-led alliance has moved 10,000 troops to Hudaydah, a port city where relief supplies enter Yemen. Saudis also say, though, Iranian weapons for the Houthis arrive there -- complicating aid delivery.

"The port of Hudaydah is a lifeline for millions of children throughout Yemen, particularly in the northern parts," Geert Cappelaere, regional director of UNICEF, told Al Jazeera. "Today 1.8 million children under the age of 5 are facing acute malnutrition and 400,000 are affected by severe acute malnutrition. So any offensive on Hudaydah is putting the lives of children at risk."

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On Friday, the Saudi alliance and United Arab Emirates launched 20 airstrikes on the Al-Dailami air base in Sanaa, where military officials say ballistic missiles and drone attacks originate.

The attacks did not affect the Sanaa International Airport, where U.N. relief aid arrives, alliance spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said.

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"This operation includes targeting of ballistic missile launch and storage locations, UAV ground stations, bomb-making and assembly workshops and their support locations in Al-Dailami air base in Sanaa," he said.

"Although the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one of the world's best funded crises ... the needs continue to grow and outpace the response," the U.N. report said. "Working with limited funding, UNFPA's support to the 184 health facilities that offer reproductive health services may stop if additional resources do not become available urgently."

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