As It Happens

Millions of people in Yemen are on the brink of starvation

The international charity organization Oxfam says half the population is struggling to find food.

Oxfam employee says 'this country is about to collapse at every single level'

Mother and daughter next to an Oxfam water tank in Al Zuhra Camp, Hodeidah, Yemen. (EPA/Oxfam)

In war-torn Yemen, millions of people are desperate for food. 

Months of fighting between a Saudi-led coalition and Shia Houthi rebels have destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. Food is in desperately short supply. 

Thirteen million people in Yemen are struggling to find enough to eat. Half that number is on the brink of starvation.

Tariq Riebl, the head of programs for Oxfam in Yemen, tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch that "due to the economic blockade that's been put in place by the Saudi-led coalition…imports are no longer coming in to Yemen, and imports are responsible for about 90 per cent of the food and fuel for the country."

People search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi air-strikes near Sana'a Airport, Yemen. (Abo Haitham / Oxfam)

"People are resorting to extreme measures, principally begging. You'll see this especially with the 1.5 million displaced people…many that have fled suddenly when airstrikes or ground combat erupted. They are leaving behind all their belongings and having no revenue source or income."

Riebl says it's difficult to know how many people are dying from the effects of food deprivation because many parts of the country are not accessible: "The airstrikes have covered the entire it's difficult to give you an exact figure. In terms of classification, right now 10 out of 22 governorates are classified as Level 4. Level 5 would be famine. Level 4 is critical emergency level. And the rest of the country is in Level 3, which also would be already considered past the emergency threshold. Yemen is one of the most food insecure countries in the world, if not the most."

Oxfam's Tariq Riebl with refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012. (Oxfam)

Reacting to the news about Saudi plans for a new ground offensive, Riebl says, "I don't know what to tell you. I've been in many of the worst disasters in the last years including Congo, Chad, Darfur, South Sudan…and what I'm seeing here is unbelievable. So now, just to consider that we could have an addition of ground troops is really quite frightening to be honest. We really call on all parties to the conflict to cease immediately and look to non-military solutions…because this country is about to collapse at every single level."