Middle East

Peace alone won't be enough to end hunger in Yemen: aid agency

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Peace talks are underway in Sweden aimed at ending nearly four years of war that have pushed Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.

Boosting aid and even ending the devastating Yemen conflict would not be enough to end hunger in the impoverished country, a World Food Programme official said Thursday.

"WFP hopes that the warring parties will successfully negotiate an end to this conflict, which is the only way to solve what has become the largest hunger crisis in the world," WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said as rival Yemeni delegations gathered for UN-brokered talks in Sweden.

"Even if we have peace tomorrow, we hope of course that we will have peace tomorrow, then you will still need to work on a way to have that economy recover," Verhoosel told AFP.

"Humanitarian support is not enough. You need the humanitarian support but you also need to save the local economy."

World's worst humanitarian crisis: UN

Yemen is home to what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, a crisis triggered by a frail economy, massive poverty, war, blockade and disease.

The Sweden talks mark the first time in two years warring parties have sat down together in a nearly four-year war which has pushed the impoverished country to the brink of mass starvation.

The Yemen crisis spiralled after Saudi Arabia and its regional military allies launched an offensive to support Yemen's embattled government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in March 2015.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths attend a meeting with delegates from both warring sides in the Yemen conflict.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths attend a meeting with delegates from both warring sides in the Yemen conflict.
AAP

The situation has worsened in recent months due to a broad economic collapse and rising violence in the rebel-held port of Hodeida, a crucial import hub for food and other basic supplies.

The UN says 24 million people in Yemen -- roughly 75 percent of the population -- will need humanitarian assistance in 2019.

Both the UN humanitarian agency (OCHA) and WFP have called for a boost in funds next year to help meet the needs of Yemenis -- 14 million of whom stand at the brink of famine, according to UN estimates.

At least 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance joined the Yemen war in 2015.

Warring parties urged to make progress in peace talks

The aid agency's warning comes as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on Yemen's warring sides to engage in UN-brokered talks without imposing pre-conditions afer the government and rebels put forward demands.

Yemen's government and Huthi rebels began talks in Sweden on Thursday aimed at ending nearly four years of war.

Guterres "urges the parties to make progress on the agenda for the consultations ... by exercising flexibility and engaging in good faith and without pre-conditions," said a UN statement.

The UN chief appealed to the sides to continue the de-escalation of Hodeida, the rebel-held port city that is a key entry point for humanitarian aid and vital supplies.

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Wounded rebels evacuated ahead of Yemen talks as UN envoy visits
Wounded rebels evacuated ahead of Yemen talks as UN envoy visits

In Sweden earlier, Yemen's foreign minister called for the withdrawal of the Huthis from Hodeida, a demand rejected by the rebels.

The United Nations is offering to play a supervising role in Hodeida, but the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's government is insisting on a rebel withdrawal as a first step.

The coalition, which includes troops trained by the US and UAE, has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida, the last rebel stronghold on Yemen's Red Sea coast and the conduit for 90 percent of vital food imports.

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