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Aid worker tells of mass starvation as major Yemen appeal launched

A British aid worker has described the mass starvation in war-torn Yemen as unlike anything she has ever witnessed, as a charity appeal is launched to help civilians.

Announcing the fund-raiser, fronted by actor Tom Hardy and television presenter Clare Balding, t he Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which represents 13 UK aid charities, said Yemen was at "breaking point" following 20 months of conflict.

More than seven million people in Yemen do not know where their next meal will come from and many children are dying from malnutrition, the organisation said.

Alice Klein, who works for Save the Children, one of the charities supporting the Yemen Crisis Appeal, returned from a three-week visit to the country last week and said she was "shocked" by what she saw.

She told the Press Association: "You went into any health centre or hospital and it was wall-to-wall with really desperate families with tiny babies.

"The babies and children were severely malnourished - as soon as the doctor began examining them and lifting up their clothes you could see all their ribs jutting out.

"They are quite low energy, they don't have enough energy to cry, they just stare out blankly."

Ms Klein said there are more than two million malnourished children in Yemen, with half a million of them severely malnourished - meaning without immediate medical attention they will die.

Spending her career covering humanitarian issues, she said she had "honestly never seen anything like it", but also witnessed how aid in Yemen had made a "physical and tangible difference".

Describing the situation within the country as "desperate", she said there has been a "perfect storm of problems" to create the crisis.

Ms Klein said Yemen imported 90% of its food and fuel, but that currently only two of the cranes in the country's main port were working after being heavily bombed - causing a huge problem with supplies.

"They don't have jobs, they're not earning, they don't have income to be able to buy food, and when they can find food it is overpriced because it is so scarce because of the port," she added.

"I met parents who had sold their cars, gold jewellery, even guns and livestock - anything they've got - taking out loans, and selling land just to be able to afford to get their child to a health centre."

She said many parents are given prescriptions by medics but they simply cannot afford to then pay for the medicine needed, and with the escalating price of supplies, "families just aren't coping".

Oxfam, the British Red Cross, Save The Children and Christian Aid are among the charities supporting the Yemen Crisis Appeal, which will be launched on major broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4 and Channel 5 on Tuesday.

Its launch comes after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he had "deep concern" about the suffering of Yemenis but backed the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in the country.

Riyadh is supporting the internationally-recognised government of Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons on Monday Yemeni-born Labour MP Keith Vaz said the Government "must speak with one voice and with one aim" for Yemen.

He said this should be an immediate ceasefire, adding: "Anything else only plays into the hands of terrorist organisations, damages our diplomacy and increases the suffering of the Yemeni people."

Mr Vaz also said the words of the Foreign Secretary "revealed an inconsistency in our foreign policy" which "threatens to wreck everything we're trying to accomplish".

In response to the question on whether a ceasefire is the UK's objective and how it will be achieved, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said the UK remains "resolute" in working towards a cessation of hostilities and working with the United Nations.

DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed , said of the appeal: "Now is the time to save lives in Yemen before it is too late. Children face the greatest risk of starvation - almost half a million infants and young children need immediate treatment for malnutrition.

"DEC members are already providing treatment for malnutrition, running mobile health teams, distributing emergency food and cash, but they need funds to reach more people."

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said Yemen "faces a humanitarian crisis that the international community cannot ignore" and ministers will match donations from the UK public up to £5 million.

She added: "Yemen has become the 'forgotten crisis' despite more than 10 million people desperately needing help and the threat of famine hanging over the country.

"The UK has led the international community to step up its efforts but more support is urgently needed, as this DEC appeal shows.

"By matching pound for pound public donations to the DEC appeal, we will double the difference British people can make to the lives of undernourished children with clean water, lifesaving food and medical treatment."

:: To make a donation visit www.dec.org.uk, call 0370 60 60 900, visit any high street bank or Post Office, or donate £5 by texting the word SUPPORT to 70000.

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