The lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently need food assistance – compounded by a shortage of funding – means that millions of people are in Yemen are on the brink of famine.
Almost 18.8 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes more than 7 million people that are food insecure; that is one in five of the country’s population. The rate of child malnutrition is one of the highest in the world.
The nutrition situation continues to deteriorate – and an estimated 3 million women and children need nutrition support. According to WFP market analysis, prices of food items spiked in September 2016 as a result of the escalation of the conflict. The national average price of wheat flour was found to be 55 percent higher compared to the pre-crisis period.
Humanitarian organizations need to be able to move freely and safely in order to reach all those in urgent need before they fall deeper into crisis.
WFP requires nearly US$950 million in 2017 to provide much-needed food assistance and carry out nutrition interventions in Yemen. It takes four months from the time WFP receives funds until food reaches the country and into the hands of families in need.
For almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.
A recent UN report on the humanitarian crisis and near-famine conditions in Yemen (that encompassed South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia as well) has led to a rare instance of Western media taking notice of the war and its catastrophic effect. But missing from most of these reports is the role of the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia—whose two-year-long siege and bombing have left the country in ruins.
UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has warned that the conflict-driven food crisis in Yemen could become a full-blown famine this year.
O’Brien told the UN Security Council that two million people need emergency food aid to survive and child malnutrition has risen 63 per cent in a year. He said a child under five dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes. Severe poverty, war damage, and a naval embargo by the Saudi-led coalition have all hit food security. Yemen has been devastated by nearly two years of war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.
This man made famine in Yemen is directly caused by a cruel embargo, which is stopping food from entering the west side of the country where most of the 25 million Yemenis live. The loading cranes at the port of Hodeida are unusable as they were bombed by hostile forces in 2015, and road and bridges that allow distribution of food have also been destroyed. Thousands of farms, warehouses including one run by Oxfam, grain silos, food factories, markets, water pumps, have been destroyed in a systematic manner over the last year. Also many lorries attempting to distribute food have also been bombed. Last week there was a 3 day truce in order to deliver humanitarian supplies – on the day before the truce began, the airports of Sanaa and Hodeida were yet again bombed, so that no aircraft carrying humanitarian supplies could land. Fishermen have been repeated bombed off the coast, making it far too dangerous for them to attempt to go to sea. Over 3.5 million people are displaced and living in makeshift tents caused by the aerial bombardment of their homes, aggravating problems caused by the lack of food and clean water.
This has caused a famine, particularly severe in the area of the Tihama, which borders the Red Sea, but a large part of the western area of Yemen is suffering badly. This has been worsened by the decision to move Yemen Central Bank out from Sanaa, the capital, a strategic decision made by Hadi, whom the world describes erroneously as a democratically elected president of Yemen – in fact he was elected in an uncontested election in February 2012 for a fixed two year term as interim president, and it was the ending of his term that started a major power struggle inside Yemen that precipitated a civil war, the Yemen army sided moved against the deeply unpopular Hadi who called in his neighbours to help him gain control of Yemen. Hadi was warned that moving the bank – that had been heroically paying salaries to all ‘sides’ in the conflict that was in itself delaying catastrophe in Yemen – would precipitate starvation of Yemeni people. Nonetheless Hadi moved the bank and salaries to those in the west of Yemen have now stopped. Bank notes that remain in circulation are tattered and becoming unusable.
Horrific pictures of starving men, women and children are now circulating on the Internet. Almost certainly tens of thousands of small children, maybe hundreds of thousands, have already died. These deaths are not included in war statistics and indeed are not being collected. Cholera is now sweeping Yemen as the water supply is drying up and deteriorating, causing further deaths. All of this with little attention from the world’s media, although there have been programmes late in the evenings on BBC and ITV in the last few weeks, and occasional stories in the British press. Despite the desperate situation amazing and inexplicably there has been no official charity appeal in UK. The man made starvation of Yemen is being done silently but steadily, and is now reaching crisis proportions, apparently with the cooperation of world governments.
It is made worse by the deterioration of the health services in Yemen caused by aerial bombardment and embargo. So many hospitals in Yemen have been destroyed (including four MSF hospitals) that many hospital staff are too frightened to go to work, and patients to terrified to attend. Over 58% of Yemenis now have no access to health care. Additionally, around 200 nutritional centres are not functioning due to the war. Many hospitals that are still admitting starving children can only do so if the patients can pay for care because of their desperate economic plight. When treated patients are discharged, they return to starvation conditions in their homes or temporary accommodation. It is hard to describe the terror of experiencing that chilling sound but not knowing where the bomb will land. The people of Yemen live with that horror and uncertainty every day.
The bald statistics state that 14 million people are hungry while nearly 19 million (70% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. It broke my heart to see so many undernourished children. Their skin worn thin and barely covering their bones, they could only make their distress known with thin, reedy cries. They were so weak they could barely stand. For almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.