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WFP head says 'race against time' under way to prevent Yemen famine

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Aid workers are in a “race against time” to prevent famine threatening millions of people in Yemen, a senior U.N. official said in Monday.

“We have about three months of food stored inside the country today,” Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, told reporters in Amman after a three-day visit to the war-torn country.

“We do not have enough food to support the scale-up that is required to ensure that we can avoid a famine.”

After almost two years of war between a Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement, 7.3 million Yemenis are classed by the U.N. as “severely food insecure”.

“It is a race against time, and if we do not scale up assistance to reach those who are severely food insecure, we will see famine-like conditions in some of the worst-hit and inaccessible areas which means that people will die,” Cousin said.

WFP was able to reach a record 4.9 million needy people in Yemen last month. But Cousin said inadequate funding meant it was forced to reduce food rations to stretch assistance to more people.

“What we have been doing is taking a limited amounts of food that we have in the country, and spreading it as far as possible, which means that we have been giving 35 percent rations on most months, we need to get to 100 percent rations,” she added.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said last month Yemen’s estimated supplies of wheat would run out at the end of March.

The U.N. has said it will need around $2 billion this year for humanitarian work in Yemen and calls the country the “largest food security emergency in the world”.

Additional reporting by Bushra Shakhshir; editing by Andrew Roche