Yemen famine: ‘Children losing their lives all the time,’ UN says

Humanitarian chief says millions at risk if Saudi-led blockade on country not lifted

Cooking gas cylinders are lined up outside a gas station  in Sanaa, Yemen where food and fuel are in short supply. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters.

Cooking gas cylinders are lined up outside a gas station in Sanaa, Yemen where food and fuel are in short supply. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters.

 

Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims” unless a Saudi-led blockade is lifted, the UN’s humanitarian chief has warned.

Sir Mark Lowcock said there must be an immediate resumption of regular flights to the cities of Aden and Sanaa by the United Nations and its partner organisations and immediate access to all ports for food, fuel and medicine.

The former Whitehall official was speaking to reporters after briefing the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

The coalition tightened its blockade in Yemen this week after a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels was intercepted near the Saudi capital.

The UN says aid agencies were given no prior notice of the Saudi decision to shut down all land, air and seaports in Yemen.

Speaking after the closed-doors meeting, Sir Mark said there also has to be immediate access to all ports, especially for food, fuel, medicine and other essential supplies.

The coalition tightened its blockade in Yemen this week after a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels was intercepted near the Saudi capital - an act condemned by Sir Mark and the Security Council.

No notice

The UN said aid agencies were given no prior notice of the Saudi decision to shut down all land, air and seaports in Yemen.

Sir Mark said he told the council that “there will be famine in Yemen” unless five steps are taken immediately.

“It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected,” he said. “It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.”

The official said the five immediate steps needed are the resumption of air services; assurances flights will not be disrupted; the opening of all ports to humanitarian and commercial vessels, especially those with critical supplies; an agreement to keep a UN World Food Program ship in waters off Aden; and a halt to interference with all vessels that have passed inspection by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism “so that they can proceed to port as rapidly as possible”.

David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, told AP on Monday that out of Yemen’s population of 27 million to 28 million people, 19 million to 20 million “do not know where they’re going to get their next meal”.

The agency is reaching only seven million Yemenis, he said, “partly because of lack of funds and partly because of lack of access” by the coalition and the Houthis.

Inevitable

Sir Mark said he couldn’t put a timeline on famine if the Saudi blockade remains but it is inevitable.

“Children are losing their lives all the time in Yemen,” he said, because they are malnourished and don’t have the ability to fight off even a cold.

The Security Council expressed concern about “the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, with 6.8 million people threatened with famine and suspected cholera cases at over 900,000”.

The council emphasised the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports and airports functioning “as a critical lifeline for humanitarian support and other essential supplies”.

Council members also reiterated the need for the coalition and the Houthis “to provide full, safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies and UN personnel to the population of all affected governorates, including by air, land and sea”.

AP