Yemen's conflict flared in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led intervention to prop up the internationally recognised government the following year.

A woman carries her baby next to a tent damaged by torrential rain at a makeshift camp for Yemenis displaced by conflict in the northern Hajjah province
A woman carries her baby next to a tent damaged by torrential rain at a makeshift camp for Yemenis displaced by conflict in the northern Hajjah province (ESSA AHMED / AFP)

The US has announced an additional $165mn in humanitarian aid for Yemen, as the war-ravaged country continues to face what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Biden administration announced the new aid Monday to keep civilians fed in warring Yemen, with the US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking hoping it would encourage other donors to come forward with funds to address Yemen's funding shortage.

Yemen's conflict flared in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led intervention to prop up the internationally recognised government the following year.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and left some 80 percent of Yemenis dependent on aid.

"The US is announcing today $165mn in additional humanitarian assistance for Yemen," said Lenderking said.

"We believe that taking immediate steps to mitigate the humanitarian crisis and save lives can contribute to progress on the peace process," he told a virtual press conference.

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Five million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and some 50,000 people live in famine-like conditions - the first time such critical levels of hunger have been reached in two years, according to the UN World Food Programme.

The UN has warned that famine could become part of Yemen's "reality" this year.

"The US can't do this alone," Lenderking said. "Other donors, particularly regional donors, must step up their contributions."

A donor conference earlier this year raised $1.7bn in aid for the country - just half its target.

Stale mate

The Biden administration called the six-year conflict in Yemen stalemated as international peace efforts still struggle to gain purchase.

The US focus on humanitarian efforts comes after Iran-backed Houthi rebels rebuffed what were repeated appeals by the incoming Biden administration to enter peace talks. 

Houthi fighters have opted instead to keep pressing a siege to capture Yemen's last government stronghold in the north, Marib, in an oil-rich province.

“The Houthis are not winning in Marib ,” despite the grinding siege, the US special envoy for said in a call with reporters Monday.

“And when that reality dawns on people, dawns on the Houthis, I think it will force them to realise that the continued isolation and the fact that the conflict is more of a stalemate, it will pull them back, and I hope bring them to the negotiating table," Lenderking said.

READ MORE: Displaced Yemenis constantly on the move amid relentless fighting

The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel faction that has seized extensive territory. 

A Saudi-led coalition supported by the US and allied with the Yemen government has been fighting the rebels since March 2015. 

The Biden administration said at its outset it was ending any US support for the Saudi military in the war. Saudi Arabia also is now hoping for a negotiated end.

On the humanitarian front, Yemen, which imports most of its food and other commodities, remains the world’s worst crisis.

The new funding will allow the UN World Food Program to keep providing emergency food assistance to 11.5 million Yemenis monthly, said Sarah Charles, a US Agency for International Development official for humanitarian aid.

The US is the largest aid donor for Yemen, providing $3.6 billion, Charles said. UN pledging conferences to stave off famine there consistently fall far short of their fundraising goals as the war grinds on.

Lenderking praised work by Oman and others for peace talks. He described Iran as the only remaining international player in the conflict indifferent or worse to stopping the fighting.

“I hear some sweet words coming out of Tehran...but I haven’t seen anything on the ground that leads me to believe that the Iranians are prepare d to play a constructive role" in that, he said.

The US official also was more explicit than previously in openly blaming both sides in Yemen's conflict for a chronic fuel shortage that is crippling food and aid deliveries and helping drive up food prices beyond the reach of many Yemenis.

The US is pushing Saudis and the US- and Saudi-backed Yemen government to allow fuel shipments into a crucial, Houthi-controlled port, Hodeida, Lenderking said.

But he also accused Houthis of stockpiling fuel to drive up prices for their profit, and of using port revenue to fund their fighting, in violation of a 2018 international agreement.

Source: Reuters