By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI (Reuters) - Funds needed to feed millions of people in war-ravaged Yemen could run out in a matter of weeks, a senior United Nations official warned, calling on donors to inject more cash to avert a large-scale famine.
World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley told Reuters the first half of 2022 would be "brutal" for Yemen, which has teetered on the brink of starvation after nearly seven years of war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group.
"We run out (of money) in a few weeks," Beasley said in Dubai. "I don't see how we don't avoid, at this stage, a famine of biblical proportions...without a massive injection of additional dollars."
The war and ensuring economic collapse as well as coalition restrictions on imports to Houthi-held areas have caused what the United Nations says is the world's biggest humanitarian crisis, with 16 million people face starvation.
The WFP said in June it was resuming monthly distributions to around 6 million people in Yemeni areas with the highest rates of food insecurity after donors heeded warnings.
But in September the U.N. agency sounded the alarm again, saying an additional $800 million was urgently needed in the next six months. It said rations would have to be cut to 3.2 million people by October and to 5 million people by December without more cash.
Battles have escalated in recent weeks in the energy-rich regions of Marib and Shabwa, further hampering aid flows in a country where 80% of the 30 million population needs help.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF said earlier this month that four out of every five children require humanitarian assistance, while 400,000 are suffering from acute malnutrition.
U.N.-led efforts to secure a truce and lift the coalition blockade have stalled. The war has been in military stalemate for years with the Houthis holding most large urban centres.
The coalition led by Riyadh intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Mark Heinrich)