UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 19 (IPS) – Yemen is heading towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades, the United Nations Security Council warned in a briefing yesterday.
“Across Yemen, more than 16 million people suffer from hunger – including 5 million close to starvation,” Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said during the briefing. The country has a little over 29 million inhabitants.
Lowcock briefed the council on worsening food insecurity and child malnutrition in the country, among other issues. He highlighted four areas that need to be addressed immediately: protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for aid services and peacemaking.
During the meeting, Lowcock highlighted the problem of hunger and child malnutrition in a country where people are more worried about hunger than the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said severe malnutrition currently affects 400,000 children under five in the country – most of whom have only a few weeks or months to live.
“These are the kids with distended bellies, emaciated limbs and blank stares – they’re starving to death,” Lowcock said.
Hunger and conflict are inextricably linked because they both multiply: hunger leads to conflict and conflict leads to hunger, Annabel Symington, spokesperson for the World Food Program (WFP) in Yemen, told IPS.
“The alarming levels of hunger in Yemen were caused by six years of conflict and the near total economic collapse that left more than half of the population – 16 million people facing a level of food insecurity of crisis and 50,000 people living in conditions of famine, ”Symington said, adding that the pandemic has been an aggravating factor in an already deep conflict.
Lowcock also raised the issue of the recent attack on the city of Marib, the government stronghold, calling it an “extremely dangerous” escalation. “It threatens to send hundreds of thousands of people running again for their lives at a time when everyone should do everything possible to stop the famine,” he said.
“The front lines would move closer to civilian areas. At least four missiles have landed in the town of Marib in the past ten days – apparently fired indiscriminately. These attacks killed at least three civilians. Missiles also landed around IDP camps. Thousands of people are already fleeing, ”he said.
But Ibrahim Jalal of the Middle East Institute (MEI) says the UN should have delivered a stronger message and specifically named the Houthi group from Yemen that was responsible for the offensive in the town of Marib.
“I think the first thing I expected was more clarity in the language,” Jalal, a non-resident researcher in the Gulf and Yemen’s affairs program, told IPS after the briefing. MEI. “You see so many issues when they talk about the protection of civilians, the humanitarian issues at stake, or even the military escalation of the Houthis in Marib – they weren’t clearly named.”
He criticized Lowcock’s discussion of the Marib attack as well as the SAFER tanker issue as lacking in many nuances or critical questions. He said that although Lowcock raised these issues, it remained “clearly unanswered” to many as to why these incidents took place and who should be held accountable in response.
Jalal believes that Lowcock should also have specifically addressed the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, which have been particularly affected by the most recent attacks.
“The situation in Marib is quite alarming, so things should have been spelled very clearly – language matters,” Jalal said. “I don’t see that over there.
Meanwhile, Lowcock also highlighted challenges in different parts of the country that are hampering aid.
In the south, there are administrative challenges such as delays in signing project agreements or releasing equipment.
In the north, he said, the authorities of Ansar Allah are the ones delaying aid services to the population.
“Regularly attempts to interfere with the delivery of aid and regularly harasses aid agencies and staff,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
Ansar Allah is also an obstacle to the ability of the UN to solve the problem of the SAFER tankers, he said.
“Ansar Allah’s authorities recently announced their intention to review their approval for the long-planned mission and advised the UN to suspend some preparations,” he said. “They have now dropped this exam. Unfortunately, we only heard that they dropped the review after a key deadline to deploy the team expired in March. “
“I want to stress that the UN remains keen to help solve this problem,” Lowcock added. “We believe this poses a clear and present danger to everyone across the country.”
But Jalal still believed that these were just words that wouldn’t translate into actions.
“I don’t think it’s bold,” he said of Lowcock’s statement. “It was just another UN statement that may fail to address the emergency and alarming threats to the two million displaced people in Marib, or even the looming catastrophic environmental disaster of the SAFER tanker problem. ”
Jalal said he was concerned that the issue of SAFER tankers continued to be pushed back as a priority year after year.
“When you have a looming multi-faceted crisis, the first thing to do is to sort it out,” he said. “But without addressing it, you are deliberately or inadvertently contributing to the escalation of the crisis and this is now more alarming than ever.”
Meanwhile, WFP’s Symington expressed hope for the recent declaration on the end of the war in Yemen.
“Conflict is the main driver of the hunger crisis in Yemen, so any positive steps towards ending the conflict are highly welcome,” Symington told IPS. “We hope that any step towards peace will ultimately alleviate the hunger crisis in Yemen.”
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service