With Yemen close to a "breaking point" and nine million people on the brink of starvation, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) on Wednesday said it was scaling up its food aid to tackle one of the world's worst hunger crises.
More than two years of civil war have cut food deliveries by more than half and pushed the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country to the edge of famine. The United Nations says nearly 3.3 million people, including 2.1 million children, are acutely malnourished.
"The situation is getting close to a breaking point in Yemen with unprecedented levels of hunger and food insecurity. Millions of people can no longer survive without urgent food assistance," Stephen Anderson, WFP's country director in Yemen, said in a statement.
"We are in a race against time to save lives and prevent a full-scale famine unfolding in the country, but we urgently need resources to do this."
WFP said the new emergency operation will cost up to $1.2 billion to feed starving Yemenis for one year.
During the next two months, the agency aims to reach almost 7 million people facing hunger, prioritizing the regions of Taiz, Hodeidah, Lahj, Abyan and Sa'ada which are quickly sinking into famine-like conditions, WFP said.
Yemen has historically imported up to 90 percent of its food, mostly through the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah. But cranes there have been destroyed by airstrikes, forcing dozens of ships to line up offshore because they cannot be unloaded.
The conflict pits the armed Houthi group against the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led Arab alliance. More than 10,000 people have been killed by coalition airstrikes and fighting on the ground.
Earlier, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, urged the coalition to lift the aerial and naval blockade imposed on Yemen since 2015 which, he said, has led to the "humanitarian catastrophe."
"The unwarranted restrictions on the flow of commercial and humanitarian goods and services into Yemen ... are paralyzing a nation that for far too long has been a victim of war," Jazairy said in a statement Wednesday.
"The blockade involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict, which cannot be left unanswered," he added.
More than 21 million people, or around 80 percent of Yemen's population, are in need of humanitarian aid, the United Nations says.