Displaced Yemeni children from Hodeida play in a shelter at a makeshift camp in a village in the northern district of Abs in Hajjah province on Sunday. Save the Children has warned that more than 5-million children risk famine in the war-torn country and that an entire generation may face death. Picture: AFP
Displaced Yemeni children from Hodeida play in a shelter at a makeshift camp in a village in the northern district of Abs in Hajjah province on Sunday. Save the Children has warned that more than 5-million children risk famine in the war-torn country and that an entire generation may face death. Picture: AFP

More than 5-million children risk famine in war-torn Yemen as food and fuel prices soar, Save the Children said on Wednesday, warning that an entire generation may face death and "starvation on an unprecedented scale".

The three-year conflict between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels linked to Iran has pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine, leaving many unable to afford food and water.

"Millions of children don’t know when or if their next meal will come," said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International.

"This war risks killing an entire generation of children, who face multiple threats from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases like cholera."

The dire humanitarian situation is being exacerbated by the battle for the lifeline port of Hodeida, which is threatening to disrupt what little aid is trickling into the country.

Located on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, the city is controlled by the rebels and blockaded by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Having already identified 4-million children at risk of starvation, Save the Children warned on Wednesday another million could now face famine as the Hodeida battle escalates.

The UN says any major fighting in Hodeida could halt food distribution to 8-million Yemenis

"In one hospital I visited in north Yemen, the babies were too weak to cry, their bodies exhausted by hunger," said Thorning-Schmidt.

Food prices in some parts of the country have doubled in just a few days, and the non-governmental organisation (NGO) said families faced impossible choices on whether to pay to take a baby to hospital at the expense of feeding the rest of the family. A total of 5.2-million children across Yemen are now at risk of starvation, according to the Britain-based NGO.

The World Food Programme in 2017 warned that food had become a "weapon of war" in Yemen, where fighting, cholera and looming famine have created what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The UN this week said food prices were up a whopping 68% since 2015, when a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia joined the government’s war against the Huthi rebels.

The cost of a food basket, which contains pantry staples and canned goods, has increased by 35% and cooking gas and fuel prices by more than 25% over the past year, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

The UN has warned that any major fighting in Hodeida could halt food distributions to 8-million Yemenis dependent on them for survival. The country’s economy and population of 22-million people depend almost entirely on imports.

Deadly clashes resumed on Monday night around Hodeida after UN-sponsored talks collapsed in Geneva in Switzerland earlier in September.

"Time is running out for aid agencies in Yemen to prevent this country from slipping into a devastating famine and we cannot afford any disruption to the lifeline we are providing for the innocent victims of this conflict," said World Food Programme director David Beasley.

UN officials are now pushing to find a solution to the Hodeida conflict. The UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths was in Riyadh on Wednesday after a three-day visit to Yemen aimed at restarting negotiations between the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and the Huthis.

Hodeida fighting

The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, was also in Hodeida on Wednesday, according to a high-ranking Yemeni military source. The source said fighting in Hodeida city had "slowed down", but battles were ongoing in other parts of Hodeida province.

AFP