AMMAN, JORDAN - A top U.N. official warned Monday that Yemen's devastating five-year civil war has knocked the country back 20 years in terms of development and access to education.
Yemen was already the Arab world's poorest nation before the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people. In 2014, rebels known as Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention. The stalemated conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world's most devastating humanitarian crisis.
"Much of the Yemeni economy has collapsed. People literally do not have any money to buy food," Achim Steiner, U.N. Development Program administrator, told The Associated Press.
"Thousands of schools are closed, millions of children aren't able to attend school, missing a generation of education," he said. "Yemen has lost... 20 years of development."
Steiner recently returned from a visit to Yemen, including the strategic port city of Hodeida. He waned that one in every three Yemenis are at risk of starving to death, out of a population of 30 million.
In Hodeida, he said the U.N. Development Program has been working to remove land mines from Hodeida's port, which handles 70 percent of Yemen's food imports and humanitarian aid. He said he met with local authorities to create an agreement on "the priorities that are now needed in terms of repair spare parts, technologies that are needed in order to be able to allow the port to function again."
Both sides of the conflict agreed in December to withdraw from Hodeida, considered an important first step toward ending the war. But the implementation of the U.N.-brokered deal has since been delayed, as the agreement was vague on who would control Hodeida's key port facilities after the withdrawal, saying only that a "local force" would take over.
Steiner urged both sides to help U.N. agencies "deliver fast and with little obstruction, the kinds of services, support, food, medicines" that ordinary Yemenis need.
"We would like to see that port up and running again in a matter of months. It can be done but only with the full cooperation of both sides," he said.
Steiner said the UNDP in Yemen faces financial difficulties, as the pledges for humanitarian support in Yemen were close to $3 billion this year, but less than $1.1 billion has been delivered.
"We will have to stop programs, we will have to cut rations, and probably in the next two to three months, 21 support programs in the country have to be stopped," he warned.