Yemen's famine to increase five-fold this year, report warns

UN agencies say 19 million people are likely to be unable to meet their food needs between June and December

Randa Ali, 3, who has severe acute malnutrition, is carried by her father in Al Khudash camp for displaced people, in the Abs district of Yemen. AFP
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More than 160,000 people in war-torn Yemen will be affected by famine during the second half of this year — five times the current figure — several UN agencies and international aid groups have said.

The warning was given in a report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a global partnership of 15 UN agencies and humanitarian organisations working in Yemen.

The IPC, which tracks and measures food insecurity in conflict-stricken regions, is funded by the EU, USAID and UKAID. The report was released before an annual UN fundraising conference on Wednesday.

David Beasley, head of the World Food Programme, appealed for immediate funding to “avert imminent disaster and save millions”.

“These harrowing figures confirm that we are on a countdown to catastrophe in Yemen and we are almost out of time to avoid it,” said Mr Beasley.

The IPC report says 19 million people in Yemen, out of a population of more than 30 million, are likely to be unable to meet their minimum food needs between June and December, up from 17.4 million.

In Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, 2.2 million children, including 538,000 already severely malnourished, and about 1.3 million women, could be acutely malnourished by the end of the year, the report said.

“More and more children are going to bed hungry in Yemen,” said Catherine Russell executive director of the UN children's fund. “This puts them at increased risk of physical and cognitive impairment, and even death.”

Yemen was plunged into war in 2014, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015, backed at the time by the US, in an effort to restore the internationally recognised government to power.

The war has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

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The report stressed the war in Yemen is the main driver of hunger and the crisis is likely to deteriorate due to the war in Ukraine. Yemen depends almost entirely on food imports, with 30 per cent of its wheat imports coming from Ukraine, the UN agencies said.

“Peace is required to end the decline, but we can make progress now. The parties to the conflict should lift all restrictions on trade and investment for non-sanctioned commodities,” said David Gressly, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen.

Separately, Farhan Haq, the UN deputy spokesman, said funding shortages have forced aid programmes to scale down or close altogether in Yemen. He said food aid for eight million people has been drastically cut back. In the coming weeks, nearly four million people could lose access to clean water and sanitation, he said.

Mr Haq described the upcoming fund-raiser as “an opportunity to demonstrate that the world has not forgotten Yemen, even as other crises are demanding global attention” and called on donors to “pledge generously and to disburse funds quickly”.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 4:59 AM