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UN warns of famine in Yemen

20 November 2020


A child collects water from a charity tap in a residential area in Sanaa, Yemen, this month

A child collects water from a charity tap in a residential area in Sanaa, Yemen, this month

INTERNATIONAL humanitarian agencies have endorsed a warning from the UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Sir Mark Lowcock, that “the most urgent task in Yemen today is to prevent widespread famine. . . The risk is growing, and malnutrition has never been worse.”

Tearfund’s country director for Yemen, Karen Swartz Soerensen, said on Tuesday that the civil war, which began in 2015 (News, 21 February), was “both the biggest cause of food insecurity, and a challenge to relief efforts. Yet Tearfund’s partners are continuing to get approval from local decision makers to provide food to households in need.”

Oxfam’s Policy and Advocacy Lead in Yemen, Abdulwasea Mohammed, said that the only solution for many families was “to reduce the amount of food they eat, or feed what little they have to their children in priority before themselves. They also skip meals and end up buying food of poor quality, often on credit.” Others had been “forced to run up debts and sell their assets, which is unsustainable in the long run. Some families have pushed their daughters into early marriage so that they can use the dowry they are paid for essential food.”

According to a joint statement in September by international non-governmental organisations, two-thirds of the population — a total of 200 million people — are hungry, and nearly 1.5 million families rely entirely on food aid to survive. An extra one million people are set to fall into crisis levels of hunger before the end of the year. Continuing restrictions imposed by warring parties in a country that imports 90 per cent of its food has, with a currency crisis, contributed to food shortages.

Sir Mark told the UN Security Council last week that the international community was not focused enough on Yemen. Words such as “acutely malnourished” and “food insecurity” were, he said, “neutral, technical terms that obscure the horrors inflicted by famine on the body and soul. . .

“It is a terrible, agonising, and humiliating death — and it is particularly cruel in a world like ours, where there is, in fact, more than enough food for everyone. This is the fate the world has left hanging over millions of Yemeni men, women, and, especially, children.”

Mr Mohammed agreed that the world needed to do more to help Yemen, pointing out that “the humanitarian response in Yemen is massively underfunded. . . It is clear that aid alone cannot put Yemen back on its feet. However, while conflict continues, the aid provided by international donors continues to be essential for saving lives and delivering humanitarian assistance on the ground.”

What Yemenis require most to relieve their suffering, Ms Swartz Soerensen said, “is an urgent ceasefire from all parties involved in the conflict. Stakeholders involved in efforts to secure a political solution and peace negotiations should ensure that they are inclusive of marginalised groups, especially women.”

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