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Houthis mark 7th anniversary of Yemen takeover on September 21, 2021. Houthis mark 7th anniversary of Yemen takeover on September 21, 2021.  (ANSA)

UN: Millions in Yemen ‘a step away from starvation’

The United Nations organized a side event on September 22 on the sidelines of the 76th UN General Assembly, focusing attention on Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

By Vatican News staff reporter

The crisis in Yemen continues unabated, with thousands of people displaced and millions “a step away from starvation,” according to the United Nations humanitarian chief. “The country’s economy has reached new depths of collapse, and a third wave of the pandemic is threatening to crash the country’s already fragile health-care system,” said Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

He was speaking at a high-level meeting on “Yemen: Responding to the crises within the world's largest humanitarian crisis,” a side event at the United Nations in New York on the margins of the 76th General Assembly.  

Yemen remains the world’s single largest humanitarian crisis, with the 7-year-old war leaving more than 130,000 people dead. Two-thirds of its population – more than 20 million people – need humanitarian assistance and protection this year. 

Hopes and fears

Noting that Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan is “among the most well-funded,” with 98 percent of the pledges made at an event in March fulfilled, Griffiths thanked the international community for stepping up support to the country’s humanitarian aid operation. With over $2 billion received, the UN and its partners were able to “prevent famine and pull people back from the brink of despair,” delivering assistance to “every single one of the country’s 333 districts.”

However, the UN’s humanitarian official pointed out that Yemen’s crisis is “far from done,” as many sectors still face “alarming funding gaps” and humanitarians are working with less than one-fifth of the money needed to provide water, health care, sanitation, hygiene, and shelter. He feared that “without additional funding, these and other forms of critical life-saving support – including food assistance – will have to be reduced in the coming weeks and months.” 

Three requests

The UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator asked global leaders to continue to generously support Yemen’s humanitarian operation; respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians; and address the root drivers of the crisis, including restrictions on imports, which elevate the prices of essential goods.

He urged them to do “everything in our collective power to stop this war,” saying, “at the end of the day, peace is what will provide Yemenis the most sustainable form of relief,”

Women and children

In any humanitarian crisis, women, children, and the elderly pay the highest price. Griffiths said that females in Yemen were more likely to be hungry, sick, or exposed to gender-based violence and, with little access to essential services, millions of internally displaced people face “a daily struggle to survive”.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who also addressed the meeting, said that Yemen’s conflict has robbed too many of the country’s children of safety, education, and opportunities. “Each day,” she said, “the violence and destruction wreak havoc on the lives of children and their families.”

She painted a grim picture of 1.7 million displaced youth, 11.3 million youngsters depending on humanitarian assistance to survive, and 2.3 million under-five “acutely malnourished” – nearly 400,000 of whom are at “imminent risk of death.”

“Being a child in Yemen,” she said, “means you have probably either experienced or witnessed horrific violence that no child should ever face.” “Quite simply, Yemen is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child,” she added.

16 million ‘marching towards starvation’

In his address, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, said that of the country’s 30 million people, 12.9 million need food rations. Approximately 3.3 million children and women need special nutrition, together with 1.6 million school children. “We’re literally looking at 16 million people marching towards starvation,” he warned.

He pointed out that every 10 minutes a child is dying from lack of food and nutrition, which is a thousand people a week. “We are predicting that if we don’t receive the funds that we need in the next 6 months - which is $800 million - when we start cutting rations,” he said, “you could actually see that number go to 400,000 children under age five dying in the next year.”

“We need this war to end number one,” Beasley stressed, adding, “World leaders need to put the pressure on all parties involved to end this conflict because the people of Yemen have suffered enough.” “These are our children; these are our brothers and sisters. We need the donors to step up immediately; otherwise, children are going to die. Let’s not let them down. Let’s do what we need to do,” Beasley pleaded.

Following the UN officials’ appeal at Wednesday’s meeting, donors pledged an additional $600 million to tackle Yemen's humanitarian crisis.   

The conflict in the Arab world's poorest country erupted when the Shia-led Houthi rebels took control of Yemen's capital Sanaa in 2014, which sent the internationally recognized government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi fleeing to exile. Since March 25, 2015, a Western-backed Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been fighting the Houthis.

23 September 2021, 12:28