UN Head Warns of ‘Catastrophe’ in Yemen as Famine’s Reach Widens

(Bloomberg) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Yemen is on the precipice of “imminent catastrophe” as the risk of famine grows, the latest sign of international frustration over a conflict that pits a Saudi Arabian-led coalition against Yemeni rebels in the Arab world’s poorest country.

“Without urgent action, up to 14 million people – fully half the population – could be at risk in the coming months,” Guterres told reporters in New York on Friday. He added that both sides in the conflict should halt attacks and said that he thinks the global community can still prevent “imminent catastrophe” in the country.

With Saudi Arabia on the defensive over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. officials have in recent days stepped up their calls to bring the Yemen war to an end. In seemingly coordinated action, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on both sides to end the war. Mattis said negotiations must begin in “30 days.”

But Pompeo suggested in a statement this week that the Houthi rebels, which the U.S. and Saudis say are backed by Iran, must take the first step.

“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Pompeo said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles. “Subsequently, coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen.”

Without referring to the U.S., Guterres said, “On the political side, there are signs of hope. I welcome the strong, constructive engagement from many member states in recent days.”

Yemeni forces, supported by the allied Saudi-led coalition, resumed an offensive this week to regain control of the port city of Hodeidah from the rebels. Hodeidah is the entry point for 70 percent of Yemen’s imports and humanitarian assistance. Saudi-led coalition planes have carried out dozens of air strikes across Hodeidah, residents say,.

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