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Neglect of Yemen crisis risks Somalia repeat – UN aid chief

National Yemen

Yemeni soldiers Martyrs who dead on the recent conflicts

LONDON (AlertNet) - The international community has not paid enough attention to Yemen's growing humanitarian emergency, and risks a repeat of the crisis gripping nearby Somalia if it fails to act urgently, the U.N. aid chief warned on Tuesday.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said millions of people in Yemen face "a daily struggle for survival" due to conflict, poverty, drought, soaring food prices and collapsing state services.

They include 100,000 displaced by recent fighting in the south, 300,000 uprooted by a previous Islamist insurgency in the north, and thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa, she said.

Yemen's latest bout of unrest erupted in January when protesters first took to the streets to demand reform and an end to the grip on power that President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family have maintained for 33 years.

The embattled president, badly hurt in an assassination attempt in June, is under pressure to make good on promises to hand over power and end a political crisis that has raised the spectre of a failed Arab state overrun by militants. He suggested on Saturday he would step down within days, a promise he has made three times already this year.

Rising insecurity has forced U.N. agencies and other humanitarian organisations to withdraw or cut back their staff levels in the Arab country, the U.N.'s Amos said. Accurate information on what is happening is becoming increasingly hard to gather, she added.

"Yemen is the poorest country in the region, and has suffered chronic deprivation for years. If we don't act now, the situation could become a catastrophe," Amos said in a statement. 

"In neighbouring Somalia, we have seen what happens if warnings go unheeded, and too little is done in time to stop a crisis. Let us not repeat the same mistake in Yemen," she added.

Somalia is mired in a drought crisis exacerbated by a conflict raging between its interim government and hardline Islamist rebels, with some 4 million of its people now in need of aid.

HUNGRY CHILDREN MISS SCHOOL

Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen, a third of the population is suffering from hunger, and health facilities are overcrowded or simply not working, according to the United Nations.

Children have been hit hard by the fallout from the growing political chaos. In some parts of the country, one in three are malnourished – among the highest levels in the world, the U.N. says. And tens of thousands are missing out on their education due to the closure of schools, some of which are sheltering displaced families.

At least 94 children have been killed and 240 wounded by gunshots or shelling since civil unrest began in Yemen earlier this year, the executive director of the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF), Anthony Lake, said last week.

"The children of Yemen should be busy going back to school at this time of year. Instead, they face armed men rather than teachers, bullets instead of books," he said in a statement. "The country is sinking deeper into a humanitarian crisis."

A joint international appeal for $290 million to respond to humanitarian needs in Yemen this year is so far 60 percent funded, according to the U.N'.s Financial Tracking Service. 

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)