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Eight million could die in Yemen famine, UN warns

16 October 2018

The war-torn country is facing the worst famine in decades


A woman holds a malnourished boy in an malnutrition treatment centre at Al Sabeen Hospital, in the city of Sanaa

A woman holds a malnourished boy in an malnutrition treatment centre at Al Sabeen Hospital, in the city of Sanaa

WAR has pushed Yemen to the brink of the worst famine the world will have seen in decades, the United Nations has warned.

Almost 13 million people in the country — two-fifths of the population — are at risk of starvation if air-strikes by the Saudi-led coalition continue to rip up life and land, the agency says. Eight million of these rely entirely on food aid, and could die if supplies are halted.

In the latest violence, at least 15 civilians were killed on Sunday, and 20 others injured, when a group of minibuses were bombed in Jabal Ras District, in the main port city of Hodeidah.

“This is a horrific incident,” the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said. “The UN agencies working in Yemen unequivocally condemn the attack on civilians and extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims.”

Since June, more than 170 people have been killed, and at least 1700 injured, in the Hodeidah governate, and more than 425,000 people have been forced to flee their homes (News, 3 August).

The port is the primary gateway through which humanitarian organisations deliver basic supplies to the war-stricken country, the UN says. Since the end of 2014, the city has been in the hands of Houthi rebels, who have been battling government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition.

“Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are obliged to respect the principles of precaution, proportionality, and distinction,” Ms Grande said. “Belligerents must do everything possible to protect civilians — not hurt, maim, injure, or kill them.”

She later told the BBC: “Many of us felt as we went into the 21st century that it was unthinkable that we could see a famine like we saw in Ethiopia, that we saw in Bengal, that we saw in parts of the Soviet Union — that was just unacceptable. Many of us had the confidence that that would never happen again and yet the reality is that in Yemen that is precisely what we are looking at.

“There is no question that we should be ashamed. We should, every day that we wake up, renew our commitment to do everything possible to help the people that are suffering and end the conflict.”

More than 10,000 people, including 5200 civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the civil war began in 2015, the UN estimates.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) posted on Twitter this week: “War has pushed Yemen to the brink. . . Only peace will save Yemeni children.” It estimates that almost 18 million people in the country do not have enough food, of whom more than eight million rely entirely on external aid for their next meal, and are therefore “at risk of dying”.

A WFP spokesman, Herve Verhoosel, said: “If this situation persists, we could see an additional 3.5 million severely insecure Yemenis . . . who urgently require regular food assistance to prevent them from slipping into famine-like conditions.”

As well as famine, the fighting has also led to cholera, mass unemployment, a lack of medical supplies, and internal displacement in the country (News, 14 September). About 75 per cent of the population (22 million people) need some form of humanitarian assistance.

The Christian charity Tearfund is working with its partners on the ground to provide families with clean water and hygiene materials to reduce the risk of illness and disease.

This includes setting up an oral rehydration centre in response to more recent cases of cholera; promoting good hygiene practices in households, schools, and mosques; distributing water filters, cholera prevention kits, and food supplies; building latrines; and teaching people to grow vegetables.

Tearfund’s Middle East response director, Kieren Barnes, said on Wednesday that the Yemen crisis must not be forgotten. “The challenges for the people of Yemen, especially in the remote locations, are relentless. They have been living on the edge of famine for too long.

“We must do all we can to provide critical aid to those in need, in order to prevent further suffering from cholera and other diseases. Our partners are Yemenis themselves and are working tirelessly, committed to serving their communities and supporting the most vulnerable.”

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