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Malnourished children being fed by thier parents in a camp for the displaced in Yemen.  Malnourished children being fed by thier parents in a camp for the displaced in Yemen.   (AFP or licensors)

UN: window to prevent famine in Yemen narrowing

The acute food insecurity in Yemen is edging towards famine. The window to prevent a famine in war-torn country is narrowing, with a United Nations study showing that millions of people in the country will face some form of food crisis next year.

By Vatican News

More than half of Yemen's population of 30 million risks slipping into “worsening levels of hunger” by mid-2021, according to a joint statement by the World Food Program (WFP), the UN’s children fund UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

According to the analysis by UN’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), around 45% of Yemen’s population is facing high levels of acute food insecurity.  Of these,  33% are in crisis, 12% are in emergency and 16,500 people are in a catastrophic, famine-like, situation, the worst level of the IPC classifications.

“These alarming numbers must be a wake-up call to the world,” WFP's executive director David Beasley warned. “Yemen is on the brink of famine and we must not turn our backs on the millions of families who are now in desperate need," he exhorted.

The war

The conflict in the Arab world's most impoverished nation began when Iran-backed Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, captured the capital of Sanaa in 2014, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee. The following year, a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which supports the government, intervened to battle the rebels and curb Iran’s influence in what has turned into a stalemated regional proxy war.  Since then, more than 100,000 people, both fighters and civilians, have been killed.

Famine-like conditions

Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen, where the more than five-year-old war has left 80% of the population heavily dependent on aid in what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The number of Yemenis closing in on an “emergency phase" of food insecurity, a situation just before famine, is expected to increase from 3.6 million to 5 million in the first half of 2021, the UN said. The emergency phase means people are suffering “enormously,” with some of the most vulnerable dying of hunger, according to the statement.

Immediate and coordinated humanitarian support, the UN agencies said, is critical to prevent famine and save lives in the country that relies on imports for 80 percent of its food and where over 70 per cent of the population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Wake-up call

"Keeping people alive by maintaining the flow of food is imperative, but this cycle cannot continue forever,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.  He said, “Yemen needs a cessation of conflict, which is the primary driver of food insecurity in the country.”

The three UN agencies also warned that the number of Yemenis currently suffering famine-like conditions could triple from 16,500 to 47,000 people between January and June 2021. ”Make no mistake, 2021 will be even worse than 2020 for Yemen’s most vulnerable people,"  Beasley warned. “Famine can still be prevented but that opportunity is slipping away with every day that passes,” he said.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore also sounded the alarm saying, “The world cannot stand by as Yemen slips into famine and millions of vulnerable children and families go hungry.”   She warned, “The situation is already catastrophic, and without urgent action more children will die."

Donor failures

In recent months, Yemen has witnessed a significant drop in humanitarian aid as key Arab donor countries failed to fulfil earlier pledges. Last month, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council that the $3.4 million UN humanitarian appeal for 2020 for Yemen had received only $1.5 billion, or about 45%. By comparison, he said, last year at this time the UN had received twice as much - almost $3 billion. “Cuts to humanitarian support this year, including food assistance, have erased previous food security gains and left families with worsening food consumption gaps,” the agencies also said. “Next year cuts will continue and may be expanded, unless funding is urgently received."  

04 December 2020, 13:38