Two years of full-scale war has driven Yemen to the verge of famine. 17 million people, or two out of three Yemenis, do not know from where they will get their next meal.
“People have started dying quietly in their homes,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Secretary General, Jan Egeland. “We are witnessing ruthless war tactics against civilians by both parties to the conflict, resulting in civilians starving. Now we are also extremely concerned that the country’s main port will cease functioning and Yemen’s last lifeline will be lost.”
More than three million women and children are already suffering from acute malnutrition in the poorest country in the region. Earlier this month, hunger took the life of 15-year-old Mohammed in Taiz. From being one of almost half a million children at immediate risk of starvation, he became one of the tens of thousands making up the grim statistics of the silent deaths in the poor country. Mohammed died alone in his room while his father was out looking for some odd jobs to get food for his children.
A displaced mother of five children living in an abandoned building in Amran said: “I would rather be killed by an airstrike than see my children die slowly of starvation,” one mother told NRC.
“Without aid, the situation in Yemen would be even worse, but humanitarian organisations alone cannot meet the enormous scale of the needs,” Egeland said.
Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food. Restrictions on imports mean that food is not coming in the volume needed. Severe food shortages and a complete collapse of the economy have left humanitarian organisations trying to fill the gap left by a crumbling commercial sector Aid is difficult to deliver on the ground, with organisations facing constant bureaucratic constraints and regular interference by authorities as they try to provide assistance.
“We as humanitarians are faced with a blockade imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition that hinders aid from reaching Yemen, in addition to security and bureaucratic barriers to deliver lifesaving assistance within the country. We are ready to respond, but without an end to the fighting, Yemenis will continue to suffer, and it will only get worse,” Egeland said.
There are now mounting concerns that the ongoing fighting could halt the supply of lifesaving goods through the country’s main port in Al Hudaydah at the Red Sea coast. A staggering 70 per cent of Yemen’s imports enter through the port, making it the most important lifeline for commercial and humanitarian supplies into the country.
“Suggestions that adequate alternative routes could be found if Al Hudaydah port were to be closed are just fantasy,” Egeland said. “Closing that port will literally mean cutting off a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.”
Governments that have the influence and leverage to change the situation are also to blame for their tacit, and at times direct, complicity. It has been more than one and a half years since the UN Security Council produced a meaningful new resolution on Yemen.
“The UN Security Council has been shamefully absent on Yemen,” Egeland said. “While children die, world leaders appear to be sitting idly by, as if this was inevitable. This is all man-made. Some governments that should have concentrated more on promoting peace have rather poured fuel onto the fire. They must insist on a political solution to the conflict and on keeping land, sea and air routes into Yemen open. A continuation of the blockade will starve an entire nation.”
Some 19 million people – over two thirds of the total Yemeni population – require some form of humanitarian assistance or protection to meet their basic needs.
More than 3 million people have been displaced by violence.
Around 17 million people suffer from food insecurity, including more than 3 million children, pregnant and lactating women suffering from acute malnutrition.
An additional 462,000 children face immediate risk of death from severe acute malnutrition.
Achieving all targets in the Humanitarian Response Plan will cost an estimated USD2.1 billion. Only 8 per cent of that funding has been received thus far.