Human Rights

Famine-like conditions seen in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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A Yemeni woman sits by the bedside of 10-year-old girl Ahmadia Abdo, who weighs only 10kg because of acute malnutrition, at a camp for the internally displaced in Hajjah province on January 23. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

ADEN -- Pockets of famine-like conditions have been observed in three Yemeni provinces under the control of the Iran-backed Houthis, according to the World Bank.

These pockets are scattered across the northern provinces of Hajjah, Amran and al-Jawf, where famine-like conditions have returned for the first time in two years, the World Bank said in an October 2 policy note on Yemen's health sector.

More than 80% of Yemen's population face major challenges in accessing food, drinking water and healthcare services, amid a lack of human resources, equipment and supplies, it notes.

Meanwhile, more than 16.2 million Yemenis still suffer from food insecurity.

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A child suffering from malnourishment receives treatment at a health centre in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on March 21. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

Malnutrition rates remain high among women and children, with 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women and 2.3 million children under the age of 5 requiring treatment for acute malnutrition.

"The conflict has led to the virtual collapse of basic social services, including Yemen's fragile health care system, and COVID-19 exacerbated the situation in Yemen," the World Bank said.

The country's gross domestic product (GDP) has declined by an estimated 50%, and 58% of the population live in extreme poverty, it said, compared to 19% before the outbreak of the war.

United Nations (UN) resident co-ordinator and humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen David Grisley has meanwhile called for "sustaining the humanitarian response and preventing people from falling into starvation or acute malnutrition".

In an October 3 article, "Stopping the march towards famine in Yemen", on the UN News website, Grisley stressed the need to stop the war that has caused the humanitarian catastrophe.

Houthis' coup triggered collapse

The Houthis' coup of 2014 led to the collapse of Yemen's state institutions and the country's economy, economist Faris al-Najjar said.

The Iran-backed armed group "looted currency reserves and insurance bank accounts and seized control of state resources", he said, thereby increasing suffering, especially in areas of high poverty and unemployment.

The three provinces where there are indicators of famine-like conditions "are part of the overall negative situation that resulted from the war", al-Najjar said.

These areas have been constant flashpoints in the conflict between the legitimate government and the Houthis, especially al-Jawf and Hajjah, he said.

The Houthis were able to take greater advantage of the residents of these three provinces, he said, "because most of them work in the government sector and their salaries have been cut off for five years".

The rest work in the commercial and agricultural sectors, which the Houthis have heavily taxed, and where the cost of doing business has risen exponentially because of rising fuel prices, directly impacting food security, he said.

"Famine does indeed exist in many areas, but international organisations and bodies have not been able to reach them," Studies and Economic Media Centre director Mustafa Nasr said.

"It is to be expected that after more than seven years of war, there would be areas suffering from famine, especially with the suspension of all social protection programmes run by official institutions," he said.

Houthis have 'abandoned the poor'

Nasr said the authority in the areas under Houthi control has completely abandoned the poor and entrusted their welfare to international and local organisations, who are unable to meet the population's full needs.

He attributed the emergence of pockets of famine-like conditions in these areas to the group's almost singular preoccupation with the collection of levies and tributes and military mobilisation, after its suspension of public sector salaries.

In an October 3 report, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Yemen said food prices have risen by about 60% in some parts of the country since the start of this year, driven by the collapse of the Yemeni riyal.

"The continued deterioration of the national currency without real remedies has led to massive inflation of [the national] currency and prices of goods and services," economist Abdul Aziz Thabet said.

This has had a negative impact reflected in an increase in poverty, hunger and food insecurity and an outbreak of diseases and epidemics, coupled with the collapse of the health system, he said.

In a recent trip to the region, US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking met with senior government officials in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as UN officials and the Yemeni government.

"His efforts remain focused on bringing immediate relief to the people of Yemen and advancing an inclusive, UN-led peace process," the US State Department said in an October 8 statement.

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