SANA’A, 28th January, 2016 (WAM) — More than half of the total population of Yemen, some 14.4 million people, are food insecure, as ongoing conflict and import restrictions have reduced the availability of essential foods and sent prices soaring, the FAO said today.

The number of food insecure people has grown by 12 percent since June 2015 (36 percent since late 2014), according to the UN agency.

“Food insecurity and malnutrition are becoming highly critical,” said Salah Elhajj Hassan, FAO Representative in Yemen, calling for urgent support to assist families in growing food and protect their livestock as well as measures to facilitate much-needed food and fuel imports.

“The numbers are staggering,” added Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Deputy Representative and Emergency Response Team Leader in Yemen, who called the situation “a forgotten crisis, with millions of people in urgent need across the country.”

“Under these critical conditions, it’s more important than ever to help families produce their own food and reduce their dependence on increasingly scarce and costly food imports,” he added.

Fuel shortages and restrictions on imports, which Yemen relies on for more than 90 percent of its staple foods, have reduced the availability of essential food commodities and caused food and fuel prices to soar since conflict escalated in March 2015.

Yemen is heavily dependent on these imports, as only 4 percent of the country’s land is arable and only a fraction of that land is currently used for food production.

Some 2.3 million people are internally displaced within Yemen, an increase of more than 400 percent compared with January 2015. This puts additional pressure on host communities already struggling with limited food resources.

Crop production, livestock rearing and fisheries employ 50 percent of Yemen’s workforce and are the main sources of livelihoods for two-thirds of the country, but a shortage of critical inputs like seeds and fertilisers have severely reduced crop production, with estimates suggesting the recent conflict has caused dramatic losses to the agriculture sector.