More than five million children risk famine in war-torn Yemen as food and fuel prices soar, Save the Children said Wednesday, warning an entire generation may face death and "starvation on an unprecedented scale".
The three-year conflict between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels linked to Iran has pushed the already 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 Yemen’s children who face multiple threats, from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases like cholera."
The already 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 four million children at risk of starvation, Save The Children warned Wednesday another million could now face famine as the Hodeida battle escalates.
"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 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 last year 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 percent 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 percent and cooking gas and fuel prices by more than 25 percent over the past year, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
The United Nations has warned that any major fighting in Hodeida could halt food distributions to eight 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 earlier this month.
"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.
The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, was also in Hodeida Wednesday, according to a high-ranking Yemeni military source.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP on Wednesday that fighting in Hodeida city had "slowed down", but battles were ongoing in other parts of Hodeida province.
Nearly 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemen conflict in 2015.