* Oxfam, MSF urge donors to help avert famine in Yemen
* Appeals come before U.N. meeting seeking $2.1 billion
* "Cause of such extreme starvation is political" - Oxfam
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, April 24 Aid agency Oxfam called on
donor nations on Monday to step up life-saving assistance to
millions of civilians in Yemen facing starvation and disease,
rather than providing arms to fuel the deepening conflict.
"Many areas of Yemen are on the brink of famine, and the
cause of such extreme starvation is political," the British
charity said on the eve of a United Nations conference in Geneva
to seek aid pledges for the Arab country.
Western governments were attending the event "while they
continue to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons and
military equipment to parties to the conflict," it said.
The food crisis could worsen if the international community
does not send a clear message that a coalition attack against
Hodeidah, the strategic Red Sea entry point for some 70 per cent
of Yemen's food imports, would be "totally unacceptable", Oxfam
Alexander Ventura, emergency coordinator and head of mission
in Yemen for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said: "The health
system is at the verge of collapse and medical services are
Yemen is reeling from two years of civil war that pits
Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, against a Western-backed,
Saudi-led coalition that is carrying out air strikes almost
daily. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting,
which has unleashed a humanitarian crisis.
The U.N. has so far only received 15 percent of $2.1 billion
sought in aid for Yemen this year.
"Bilateral and institutional donors must prioritise
assistance to the country's health system to avoid total
collapse," Ventura said, adding that doctors and nurses had not
been paid in six months.
Civilians are "deliberately targeted" by all warring sides,
he said, and severe acute malnutrition was on the rise.
"Children are more at risk of dying from preventable
diseases, pregnant women are unable to deliver safely and people
suffering chronic conditions like renal failure are in need of
dialysis," he said. "Silent deaths must be prevented."
MSF, which supports 12 hospitals across Yemen, uses Hodeidah
and other ports to bring in medical supplies but has begun
airlifting goods to Aden, Hodeidah and Sanaa, Ventura said.
"We are keeping an eye on Hodeidah, if (an attack) happens
to provide assistance as well. We are getting ourselves
prepared, we are already supporting some health facilities."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)