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UN: Yemen No Closer to Peace; Famine Spreads

FILE - Displaced Yemeni children are pictured at a makeshift camp for people who fled fighting between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government forces, near the conflict zone in Yemen's western province of Hodeida, on August 21, 2021.

The United Nations warned Monday that Yemen is no closer to peacefully resolving its civil war, as the country spirals faster toward famine and other catastrophes.

"There is perhaps one overarching humanitarian priority and that is to stop the famine," said Martin Griffiths, who was until last month the U.N.'s Yemen envoy but is now the organization's new humanitarian chief. "Today about 5 million people are just one step away from succumbing to famine and the diseases that go with it. Ten million more are right behind them."

Griffiths said the famine is a symptom of the country's deeper collapse.

"In many ways, it is all of Yemen's problems rolled into one and it demands a comprehensive response," he said.

More than six years of war have pushed the Middle East's poorest country to the brink. While food is available in the country's markets, people can no longer afford it.

FILE - People wait to refill their gas cylinders amid increasing shortages in Yemen's third city of Taez, July 31, 2021.

The currency is in freefall, the GDP is down 40% since the war started in 2015, and fuel shortages have become critical. Even cooking gas for stoves is in short supply, with customers waiting a month to have their gas cylinders refilled. Civil servants only receive their salaries sporadically, meaning millions of people have no income to purchase food or other basic services.

A U.N. humanitarian appeal for nearly $4 billion is only about half funded.

The U.N. children's agency says the situation of children is particularly dire.

"In Yemen, one child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, including malnutrition and vaccine-preventable diseases," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

UNICEF estimates that nearly 21 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. Half of them are children, of whom 2.3 million are acutely malnourished. Nearly 400,000 children younger than 5 suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are at imminent risk of death.

"Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares," Fore said.

FILE - Women sit next to malnourished children lying on beds at a malnutrition treatment center in Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeida, August 18, 2021.

Political talks

Meanwhile, progress on political talks has stalled between the Saudi-backed government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels.

The U.N. is trying to broker a nationwide cease-fire, reopen Sana'a airport and ease restrictions on the flow of fuel and other imports through Hodeida port and get direct talks going again.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Hans Grundberg, a career diplomat from Sweden, to be his new Yemen envoy. A veteran diplomat, Grundberg has represented the European Union as its ambassador to Yemen since 2019. He will take up his new post in early September.

"The new special envoy presents us with a real opportunity," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of Grundberg's appointment.

"We all agree that the fighting must end. And we all agree that a political path to peace, one with meaningful participation by women, minority leaders, and civil society, must be pursued," she said. "Let us seize this moment. Because time is precious, and lives are being lost."

© VOA News

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