Human Rights

7 million Yemenis at risk of famine, UN warns

By Faisal Darem in Sanaa

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UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick speaks about the country's humanitarian crisis during a March 27th press conference in Sanaa. [Photo courtesy of Mohamed Hwais]

As it enters a third year of war, Yemen is facing a severe humanitarian crisis, according to the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick.

Speaking at a March 27th press conference in Sanaa, McGoldrick said neither words nor numbers could accurately describe the suffering of million of Yemenis.

"There are 19 million people, around two thirds of the population, who require humanitarian aid, of which 17 million have no food security and seven million are at risk of starving, according to one of the plausible scenarios," he said.

McGoldrick called on the international community to provide rapid financial assistance in response to "the humanitarian call made by the UN for the purpose of helping six million people or more".

An estimated $2.1 billion is needed to address the crisis, he said, "of which only 7% has been pledged, and we are now nearing the first quarter of the year".

McGoldrick described the difficulties that humanitarian organisations face as they try to reach and provide aid to six million people across the country.

He said food and other aid could be delivered to a larger number of people if freedom of movement were possible and better security conditions prevailed.

War exacts a heavy toll

Over the last two years, McGoldrick said, "more than 50,000 civilians have been injured, killed or maimed as a result of the war".

At least 1,450 children have been killed and 2,450 others injured, while 1,572 child soldiers have been recruited to fight or have been used by armed factions to conduct non-military activities.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in mosques, markets, schools and hospitals and elsewhere, he added.

Two years of conflict also have seen long term displacement among the population, with more recent military operations around the Red Sea port of al-Mokha triggering a wave of displacement.

Roughly 50,000 people have been displaced from this area, along with around two million others who have been displaced elsewhere in the country, he said.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are at heightened risk of violence, McGoldrick said, and millions of children are not able to attend school.

19 million need food aid

"With the start of the third year of the war, more people are now in need of humanitarian assistance and food aid," said Deputy Minister of Planning and International Co-operation Mutahar al-Abbassi.

"Donors have to strongly respond to the humanitarian call, since the UN had a 55% shortfall of its funding target, which was $1.8 billion, while the fundraising target for 2017 has risen to $2.1 billion," he told Al-Mashareq.

These funds will be insufficient to address the level of humanitarian suffering, he added, but will still help to provide the most urgently needed aid.

There are currently 19 million Yemenis who need food aid, with 14 million facing an acute shortage of food, according to UN reports.

To help address the population's needs, the UN will hold a donor conference in Geneva on April 25th, Ahmed bin al-Aswad of the UN communications office told Al-Mashareq.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend the meeting, along with high-level officials from the governments of donor countries and representatives of international organisations, he said.

"The call to take part in this conference has been extended to all donors and supporters of Yemen, including countries, international and Arab Gulf funds as well as other stakeholders interested in the humanitarian aspect," he said.

Peaceful resolution to conflict

"Bringing the warring factions to the negotiation table will significantly help to ease the suffering of Yemenis," economist Abdul Jalil Hassan told Al-Mashareq.

He called on the UN to push for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, "because seven million people are at risk of starvation if the UN does not allocate the necessary resources or in the event that the port of al-Hodeidah is targeted".

The port is a lifeline for Yemenis as it brings in urgent aid, he said.

"The residents of al-Hodeidah are already the most impoverished compared with populations of other Yemeni provinces," al-Hodeida human rights and social activist Hayat Hikmi told Al-Mashareq.

Any closure of the port would cause further suffering, because much of the local population works at the port and relies on it for their livelihood, she said, describing it as "an important outlet for aid".

"The port of al-Hodeidah is the main gateway for aid and commerce," said UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Yemen public information officer Zaid al-Alaya.

"Its closure means the rise of poverty and hunger levels, which also raises the need for food for 19 million people, up from 17 million," he said.

There need to be alternative means of aid delivery, he said, though opening alternate routes "would be even more difficult and the price even higher".

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If this is the case, how then is the suffering of refugees in Yemen? All the Commission’s doors in the northern provinces have been closed. Refugees in Yemen are facing unprecedented crisis. Only locals work at the Commission, and they’re racists. They don’t care about the suffering of refugees. Finally, we hope the world will look again at the conditions of poor refugees in Yemen.

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Solving the problem as soon as possible.

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