Amid Russia-Ukraine war, don't forget 19 million hungry Yemenis, says UN official

Humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths tells Security Council that the poorest Arab country has now become a 'chronic emergency'

Randa Ali, 3, weighing only four kilogrammes and suffering from acute malnutrition, at camp for displaced people in north-western Yemen. AFP

As Russia's war in Ukraine wages on, the world has been urged not to not to forget the conflict in Yemen where one of the “gravest global humanitarian catastrophes” has left 19 million people facing hunger this year.

The UN Security Council was told on Tuesday that Yemen has become a “chronic emergency”, which can lead to donor fatigue.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told the council that more must be done to help the Arab world’s poorest country, where 160,000 are expected to face “famine-like conditions”.

Yemen has the world’s highest percentage of its population in need — with three out of every four Yemenis, or 23.4 million people, vulnerable.

Mr Griffiths, the Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, spoke on the eve of an online pledging conference for Yemen on Wednesday that was hosted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

The conference is seeking about $4.3 billion to help more than 17 million people across Yemen this year.

The event “is not just about the money, though that is hugely important”, Mr Griffiths said.

“It is also an opportunity for the international community to show that we are not giving up on Yemen, even after all these years and with new crises emerging. And that is a very important message.”

Mr Griffiths said aid agencies face “alarming and unprecedented funding shortages” that have forced two thirds of major UN programmes to scale down or close in recent months.

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie is in Yemen to take part in the donor meeting.

Angelina Jolie visits Yemen - in pictures

This has included “deep cuts to core services like food aid, water, health care and relief for people fleeing the violence”, he said.

Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014, when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital 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 by the US and the UAE, to try to restore Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and his internationally recognised government to power.

Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated largely into a stalemate, causing the humanitarian crisis. The US has since suspended its direct involvement in the conflict.

Mr Griffiths said hostilities persist along nearly 50 front lines, including in the strategic, energy-rich central city of Marib, where a two-year Houthi offensive continues, and in western Hajjah “where clashes have escalated sharply in recent weeks”.

Last year, more than 2,500 civilians were killed or wounded in hostilities that forced about 300,000 people to flee their homes. That leaves 4.3 million people displaced in Yemen since 2015, he said.

Yemen's 'path to peace will narrow'

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council that the US “is planning a significant contribution” at Wednesday’s pledging conference, “but it will take all donors working together to meet Yemen’s dire needs”.

“We must address Yemen’s humanitarian crises now,” she said. “Otherwise, the path to peace will narrow.”

Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, told the council that since 2015, donors have spent “an exceptional, an extraordinary and generous sum” of about $14 billion on UN appeals to reduce the suffering of the Yemeni people.

More than 75 per cent of that money has come from six donors — the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, Germany and the European Commission, he said.

Yemen already faces fuel shortages, and price increases are expected “to become even more acute as the energy prices globally continue to rise … because of events which have nothing to do with Yemen”, he said, an apparent reference to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a major oil and natural gas producer, and the ensuing sanctions.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 4:25 AM