‘Perfect storm’ putting Yemen on brink of famine

Violence and food shortages continue as UN warns that 13 million need aid

Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, with Syrian refugees during his visit to a makeshift settlement  in Lebanon. Photograph:  Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, with Syrian refugees during his visit to a makeshift settlement in Lebanon. Photograph: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

 

The conflict in Yemen has left the poorest country in the Middle East on the brink of famine, the United Nations said on Thursday, as a bomb killed four people near the governor’s office in the southern city of Aden .

Shortages of food, potable water, and fuel have created a “perfect storm” for Yemenis and 13 million people urgently need aid, the UN’s World Food Programme’s director Ertharin Cousin stated.

Speaking after a three-day visit to Yemen, she said aid was not reaching all areas due to violence and warned of “irreversible” damage unless food reaches 1.2 million malnourished children.

Bombing

The UN’s under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, who also toured Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of Hodeida port, used by aid agencies to land supplies, was a violation of international law. “I am extremely concerned that the damage to the port ... could have a severe impact on the entire country and will deepen humanitarian needs,” he told the UN Security Council.

A World Food Programme ship was in the port at the time of the attack.

“The scale of human suffering is almost incomprehensible,” Mr O’Brien said.

The crisis for Yemenis has been intensified by closed banks, non-payment of salaries for months, closure of hospitals, shelling of civilian areas by both sides, heavy Saudi bombing of infrastructure and the lack of funds for aid. The UN needs $100 million over the next three months to provide essential assistance.

Thirteen educators and four children in their care were killed, and 20 injured, in an air strike on Wednesday on a teachers’ office in Amran, north of the Houthi-controlled capital Sana’a.

The UN has placed Yemen alongside Iraq, Syria, and South Sudan at the highest level of humanitarian catastrophe. Amnesty International reports that Yemeni civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict raging between Shia Houthi rebels supported by dissident army units and anti-Houthi groups backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, which has “also killed and wounded civilians in unlawful air strikes which failed to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects” in Houthi-held areas.

In a 23-page report entitled, Nowhere Safe for Civilians, Amnesty, which blames all parties, says conflict, raging in 20 of the country’s 22 provinces, has killed 4,000 and displaced over one million.

Driven into exile

The conflict escalated on March 26th last when Saudi Arabia intervened with the aim of reinstating president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, driven into exile by the Houthis, who had seized large swathes of territory to protest against marginalisation, discrimination and corruption.

Sunni Saudi Arabia argues the Houthis have the backing of Shia Iran, the kingdom’s regional rival. Experts say Tehran provides only verbal and political support; the Houthis have raided army stores for weapons and supplies and are reinforced by army units loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.