Children stand next to a tent at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen April 24, 2017. (REUTERS)
The United Nations needs massive funds to avert famine in Yemen and warring parties there must ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday as he opened a donor conference in Geneva.
A U.N. appeal for $1.2 billion this year for Yemen, where Guterres said a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes, is only 15 percent covered.
Two years of conflict between Houthi rebels aligned with Iran and a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that carries out air strikes almost daily have killed at least 10,000 people in Yemen, and hunger and disease are rife there.
Nearly 19 million people or two-thirds of the population need emergency aid, Guterres said, renewing a call for peace talks and urging all parties to "facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid by air, sea and land".
"We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation. We must act now to save lives," he added.
"All infrastructures must remain open and operational."
Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid Bin Daghr said his government, which controls only part of the country, would allow access for aid supplies. "We are ready to open new corridors for this aid," he said.
Initial pledges announced at the conference included $150 million from Saudi Arabia, $100 million from Kuwait, 50 million euros ($54.39 million) from Germany and $94 million from the United States.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has committed $1 billion to Yemen and reached a record 5 million people last month with rations but needs to scale up deliveries to reach 9 million who are deemed "severely food insecure", its regional director Muhannad Hadi said in an interview.
They include some 3 million malnourished children.
"Real Famine That Will Shame Us"
"If the international community does not move right now, and if WFP does not get the right funding and support to address all needs, I think the cost of that will be real famine that will shame us in coming months and weeks," Hadi told Reuters.
Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, 70 percent of which passes through the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah. Concerns are growing about a possible attack by the Yemeni government and its Arab allies, who say the Houthis use it to smuggle weapons and ammunition.
"We are concerned about (all) facilities in Yemen because at this stage we can't afford to even lose one bridge or one road network let alone to lose a major facility like Hodeidah port," Hadi said.
"In order to achieve security in this region, we have to address the food security needs. It's impossible to have security in the country while people are hungry," he said.
The U.N. called on April 5 for safeguarding of the port, where five cranes have been destroyed by airstrikes, forcing ships to line up offshore because they cannot be unloaded.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien told the conference the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are scaling up and are prepared to do more, "provided there are resources and access".