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Yemen's wheat stocks will run out at end of March - U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - Yemen’s estimated supplies of wheat will run out at the end of March, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said on Friday in a report.

A boy sits next to food supplies he received from a local charity in Sanaa, Yemen, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

It suggests Yemen, an impoverished country crippled by war and on the brink of a major famine, is facing an even more urgent wheat crisis than previously thought. On Jan. 27, the top U.N. aid official in the country told Reuters that Yemen had roughly three months’ supply.

“Yemen is facing the largest food security emergency in the world. Without immediate action, the situation is likely to worsen in 2017,” the FAO report said.

After almost two years of war between a Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement, more than 80 percent of Yemenis are in debt and over half of all households are buying food on credit, with 7.3 million people classed by the U.N. as “severely food insecure”.

That means they “do not know where their next meal is coming from”, said U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien, who launched an appeal this week for $2.1 billion (£1.7 billion) for food and other life-saving aid.

Yemen’s biggest traders have stopped new wheat imports due to a shutdown in trade finance and the absence of import guarantees from the central bank, Reuters reported in December.

“Given that the country is dependent on imports for more than 90 percent of its wheat supplies, this would hasten the decline of food availability in local markets and drastically increase food insecurity in Yemen,” the FAO said.

The Saudi-led coalition imposes strict conditions on the ports that it controls, and the main port of Hodeidah is badly damaged. The U.N., which is hoping to bring in four new mobile cranes to ease congestion at the port, said on Friday that air strikes on Hodeidah had intensified.

To complicate matters, Yemen’s chaotic security situation means that desert locusts are breeding in several areas on the Red Sea Coast and Gulf of Aden, which could further damage the country’s already struggling agriculture sector.

Locust experts say it has been impossible to carry out proper monitoring and control of the locust situation within Yemen.

The FAO report said almost 1.5 million households engaged in agriculture lacked access to critical inputs such as seeds, fertiliser, fuel for irrigation or animal feed.

Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Andrew Roche