Yemen to “the worst famine we have seen in decades” warns UN chief

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UNITED NATIONS/ RIYADH: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that Yemen could face “the worst famine we have seen in decades” and urged the country’s warring parties to immediately halt the violence.

The UN chief told reporters “the urgency of the humanitarian crisis leaves no room for complacency” and the “building wave of momentum” for peace must be seized.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned last week that “there is a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen” that could affect 14 million people half of the country’s population.

The conflict began in 2014 when Houthi rebels toppled the internationally recognised government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

Guterres said more and more countries are engaged in helping create conditions for the warring parties to understand the need to cease hostilities and engage in serious negotiations.

He urged the coalition and the Houthis “to overcome obstacles and resolve differences through dialogue” at UN facilitated talks later this month.

Guterres stressed that “violence must stop everywhere with an immediate halt around critical infrastructure and densely populated areas.”

“My objective is to appeal to the parties to the conflict to understand that there is an opportunity that must be seized, and to say that the humanitarian situation is so dire that if that doesn’t happen” the world will have to deal with a famine in Yemen next year, he said.

“I must say, I hope the voice of reason will prevail,” Guterres said.

Coalition hits airbase

A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said on Friday it attacked an airbase in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, a day after the Saudi-backed government offered to restart peace talks with the insurgents.

“This operation includes targeting of ballistic-missile launch and storage locations… bomb-making and assembly workshops and their support locations in Al-Dailami Airbase in Sanaa,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki said in a statement.

He added that the adjoining Sanaa international airport was still open to air traffic from the United Nations and other relief agencies.

Calling the attacked structures “legitimate military targets”, Malki said he will provide “evidence” of violations by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels later on Friday.

The development comes a day after the Yemeni government said it welcomed “all efforts to restore peace” following calls by key US officials and the UN’s envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths for warring parties to come to the table “within a month”.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have called for an end to the Yemen war, including air strikes by the coalition.

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