A new UN report co-authored with a consortium of aid agencies and experts has warned of the biblical scale of the humanitarian crises unfolding in Yemen as a result of the Saudi led war against the Houthis.
"For the first time, food security assessments have confirmed the worst levels of hunger in Yemen," said the report, which was released over the weekend. "Immediate responses are required to save lives and livelihoods of millions not to slide to the next worse case which is famine."
Some 11 million were categorised as being in phase three of a five-stage scale for measuring famine. While phase five represents extreme famine, phase three indicates social breakdown; collapse of markets; coping strategies being exhausted and survival strategies (migration in search of help, abandonment of weaker members of the community) being adopted.
Another five million were considered to be in phase four; an "emergency" situation in which people suffer from severe hunger and "very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality" or an extreme loss of income that will lead to severe food shortages. A further 250,000 were in "catastrophe" conditions or phase five according to the UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock.
In total 20 million people in war-torn Yemen are hungry — a staggering 70 per cent of the population and a 15 per cent increase from last year.
Lowcock, who recently returned from Yemen, told reporters there has been "a significant, dramatic deterioration" of the humanitarian situation in the country and "it's alarming".
Lowcock said that for the first time, 250,000 Yemenis are in phase five on the global scale for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and malnutrition — the severest level, defined as people facing "starvation, death and destitution". No other country in the world has populations in phase five of famine except South Sudan, which has 25,000 people on the most severe category.
The overwhelmingly majority of those in the worst stage of famine are concentrated in four provinces: Taiz, Saada, Hajja and Hudaydah.
Scott Paul, who leads humanitarian policy at Oxfam America, said the situation is urgent. "What we have is a complete data set saying that things are terrible and getting worse," he said.
The UN is expected to reach 15 million people next year and will appeal for $4 billion in aid to provide emergency relief. This year the world body appealed for $3 billion and last year it demanded $2 billion.
Last week the UN said that Yemen will needs more humanitarian aid than Syria for the first time since the war began in 2015.