Tuesday November 14, 2017

'Humanitarian catastrophe': UN warns Saudi blockade could starve millions in Yemen

'We have about seven million people who are facing famine-like conditions already. And we have in Yemen the world's largest food security crisis,' said  UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Shabia Mantoo.

'We have about seven million people who are facing famine-like conditions already. And we have in Yemen the world's largest food security crisis,' said UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Shabia Mantoo. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

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Yemen could face the world's largest famine in decades, warns the United Nations, if Saudi Arabia continues to block aid into the war-torn country.

'We have in Yemen the world's largest food security crisis.' -  Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR

"The conditions here are very critical. They're life-threatening to millions of people," UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"We have about seven million people who are facing famine-like conditions already. And we have in Yemen the world's largest food security crisis."

YEMEN-FOOD/

A malnourished boy lies on a scale at a malnutrition intensive care unit in Hodeidah, Yemen, Nov. 17, 2016. The UNHCR's Shabia Mantoo called for access to all of the country's airports in order to meet the country's humanitarian needs. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

'Humanitarian catastrophe'

Cholera, famine, and mass displacement of people fleeing the war are all factors adding to the "humanitarian catastrophe," said Mantoo.

'We have under a million people who've been suspected of having cholera.'  - Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR

Yemen also faces the world's worst cholera outbreak, according to Mantoo.

"We have under a million people who've been suspected of having cholera. And in the absence of essential humanitarian assistance and also an increase in the price of water and the price of fuel and gas on the market, we're going to see more and more people susceptible to the disease."

On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition announced it would reopen government-controlled ports after it closed all air, land and sea ports in the Arab world's poorest country in response to a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh last week.

Yemen

People are treated for suspected cholera infections at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. The United Nations and more than 20 aid groups said Nov. 9, 2017, that the Saudi-led coalition's tightening of a blockade on war-torn Yemen could bring millions of people closer to 'starvation and death.' (Hani Mohammed/The Associated Press)

But Mantoo said access to all of Yemen's airports is what's needed in order to meet the country's humanitarian needs, pointing to many aid workers stranded outside the country unable to get back in.

'The incursions are affecting the availability of food, fuel and medicine.' - Shabia Mantoo

Yemen is 90 per cent dependent on imports for food and other supplies, according to Mantoo.

"We're seeing more and more humanitarian needs arise. We're running dangerously low on humanitarian supplies and the incursions are affecting the availability of food, fuel and medicine."

Yemen

Yemeni children wait to receive food rations provided by a local charity, in Sanaa, Yemen, April, 13, 2017. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

The Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting Yemen's Iranian-backed rebels —  known as Houthis — since March 2015.

Mantoo called for a peaceful, political solution because "without that we're just seeing that the advocacy efforts and humanitarian response we're putting in here on the ground in Yemen — it's not enough."

"We need more support from the international community."

The Current tried to contact the Saudi Arabia embassy in Ottawa for comment but did not get a response.

Listen to the conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Amra Pasic.