The United Nations (UN) under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien has called upon the warring parties in Yemen to start a political dialogue to bring an early end to the devastating conflict and to avoid a famine before that.
Last Sunday marked the second year of the ongoing Yemen conflict when O’Brien – also the UN emergency relief coordinator – in a statement said, “Most of all, the Yemeni people need the parties to commit to political dialogue, or this man-made crisis will never end.”
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“In the meantime, together we can – we must – avert this famine, this human catastrophe.”
He added, “The parties to the conflict must also facilitate immediate, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian access. They must also facilitate commercial access, which will be critical to reversing the massive food insecurity and ensuring that people’s basic needs can be met.”
“Man-made conflict has brought Yemen to the brink of famine,” the statement said. “Today nearly 19 million Yemenis – over two-thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance. Seven million Yemenis are facing starvation,” the UN official added.
A famine, as per the UN, can only be declared when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. For instance, when at least 20% of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30% and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
O’Brien believed that despite global political efforts to bring peace in Yemen, the sound of airstrikes, bombs, bullets and artillery were now familiar to the daily life. “They are too often the sound of another death.”
Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, including well over 1,400 girls and boys during the two-year civil war in Yemen. “But, casualty figures belie the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding in Yemen,” the statement said.
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“Conflict, insecurity and the cynical tactics of the warring parties have wrecked Yemen’s economy, made food increasingly scarce, displaced three million people from their homes, and impeded the work of humanitarians – whose only aim is to alleviate suffering and save lives,” the statement continued.
O’Brien recalled that during his third visit to Yemen weeks ago, he witnessed terrifying evidence of looming famine.
“In the hospital ward, the complete stillness of the tiny malnourished child whose eyes focus on nothing,” the statement said.
“The grim realisation that these patients were the fortunate ones who could access a hospital and might survive.”
“What about all the others – out of sight? Out of mind?” the statement said. “That is precisely what we cannot allow to happen. There is still time to avert a catastrophe in Yemen.”
The UN and partners are already providing life-saving assistance too 22 of Yemen’s governorates, reaching almost six million people every month, the statement said.
“We can and must do more, but urgent funding is needed in coming weeks — or it will be too late,” it added.
Earlier in March, the World Food Programme (WFP) had warned that families in Yemen’s most food insecure areas would die unless the international community provided additional resources and local authorities allow aid workers access to hungry people.
The civil conflict in Yemen has continued since the UN-backed government was ousted by the Houthi militants in late 2014. It later triggered a Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in late March 2016.
The two-year-long conflict worsened the chronic food insecurity in Yemen, a country already considered one of the poorest in the world.