UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. special envoy for Yemen said Friday that he would convene the parties to that conflict "shortly" to begin serious talks to resolve the more than three-year-old war.
"This is a crucial moment for Yemen," Martin Griffiths told U.N. Security Council members. "I have received firm assurances from the leadership of the Yemeni parties — the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah — that they are committed to attending. I believe they are genuine and I expect them to continue in that way and appear for those consultations."
Griffiths' last effort to get the parties together in Geneva in September fell apart, when the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels skipped the talks with Saudi-supported Yemeni government officials. He hopes to convene them in Sweden this time.
"This is an opportunity at a crucial moment to pursue a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement to the conflict," Griffiths said.
The envoy also announced that he had obtained agreement from the Saudi-led coalition to facilitate medical evacuations of some injured Yemenis out of Sanaa and said he was close to concluding a deal between the parties on the exchange of prisoners and detainees.
A Saudi Arabian-led coalition began bombing Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in support of Yemen's government in March 2015. Since then, the U.N. estimates, more than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly in airstrikes.
Food, financial crises
While there is a glimmer of hope on the political horizon, the country is still facing massive food shortages and a collapsing economy.
David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, just returned from a three-day mission to Yemen.
"What I have seen in Yemen this week is the stuff of nightmares, of horror, of deprivation, of misery," Beasley told council members.
He said he saw children who were "skin and bones" dying in hospitals that did not have the capacity to care for them.
"It's hard to walk through a hospital. In room after room after room, you see these little children dying before your very own eyes," Beasley said.
His agency currently feeds 8 million Yemenis each month, but is soon expecting to scale that up to between 12 million and 14 million.
"That may not yet be classified as famine, but we are marching toward disaster," Beasley said. He emphasized that in the last month alone, hunger had grown to include 1.6 million more Yemenis.
The U.N. has been raising alarms for months that the country is facing a widespread famine as a direct result of the conflict. Yemen relies on imports for most of its food, fuel and medicine. Fighting around the country's most important seaport, Hodeida, has hindered food imports and distribution, and an economic crisis is further escalating the humanitarian crisis.
"Starvation is on the horizon unless circumstances change and change immediately," Beasley warned. "The war has taken its toll over four years, but the economic crisis will accelerate that damage in just a matter of months."
He said the country needed a substantial cash injection to stabilize its local currency, which is badly depreciated and ruining the average Yemeni's ability to buy food.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock urged the Security Council to help avert a catastrophic deterioration of the situation.
He has asked the council to support his request for a truce in and around facilities and infrastructure used for humanitarian aid; facilitate and protect the supply of food and other critical supplies across the country; help resuscitate the national economy; increase humanitarian funding; and for the parties to the conflict to support the work of the special envoy on the political front.
Britain, which oversees the Yemen file in the Security Council, said it would present a draft resolution with this package of requests on Monday to the council for its consideration.