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In this file photo taken on July 8, 2019, displaced Yemenis from areas near the border with Saudi Arabia carry WFP food aid.

ESSA AHMED/AFP/Getty Images

UN agencies warned Wednesday that food shortages will rise sharply in parts of war-torn Yemen in the next six months, mainly because of the overall economic decline and the pandemic that has ripped through the Arab world’s poorest country.

A report by the World Food Program, the UN Children’s Fund and the Food and Agriculture Organization said the number of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity is expected to increase from 2 million to 3.2 million in the country’s south.

Yemen has been the site of the largest food crisis in the world, mostly because of the war that pits the country’s Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the internationally recognized government.

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Economic shocks, conflict, floods, desert locusts and now COVID-19 are creating a perfect storm that could reverse hard-earned food security gains in Yemen, the report said.

“Yemen is facing a crisis on multiple fronts,” said Laurent Bukera, the WFP director for Yemen. “We must act now. In 2019, thanks to a massive scaleup, WFP and partners were able to reverse the deterioration in the worst hit areas of Yemen.”

Yemen’s conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with more than 3 million people internally displaced and two-thirds of the population reliant on food assistance for survival.

Donor countries recently cut back on aid to Yemen amid the coronavirus pandemic and also due to concerns that the aid might not be reaching intended recipients in territories controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis.

“Yemen is again on the brink of a major food security crisis. … Unless we receive the funding we need now, we won’t be able to do the same this time,” said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen.

She said the UN agencies faced the similar situation 18 months ago, but they were “generously funded” and “prevented a famine.”

Some 24 million Yemeni people, which is 80 per cent of the country’s entire population, require some form of assistance or protection, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA. And 75 per cent of UN programs for the country, covering essentially every sector, from food to health care and nutrition, have already shut their doors or reduced operations.

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