Famine is pushing Yemen ‘off a cliff’, UN says in revived appeal

UN has a $2.5bn hole in its budget for an aid operation serving 20 million people

A Yemeni woman waits with her malnourished child ahead of treatment sessions at a medical center in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeida, on May 1, 2021. / AFP / Khaled Ziad
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The humanitarian situation in Yemen is “falling off a cliff”, with 16 million people going hungry and a $2.5 billion hole in the global aid budget, a UN spokesman said on Thursday.

Stephane Dujarric said more than 20 million Yemenis needed assistance in a country on the brink of famine more than six years after Iran-backed rebels toppled the internationally recognised government.

“This includes more than 16 million men, women and children, who are going hungry this year," Mr Dujarric said.

"Tens of thousands of people are already living in famine-like conditions, with five million just one step away.”

There has been continued fighting across Yemen, including an offensive by the Houthis on gas-rich Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the north.

The assault has displaced almost 20,000 people and “threatens the safety of millions”, Mr Dujarric said.

Aid teams need $3.85bn to tackle famine, Covid-19 and Yemen's other crises, but donors have provided only a third of that sum.

The teams help 10 million people each month, four million fewer than they did before funding cuts.

A bipartisan group of US senators wrote a letter urging the US State Department to tackle the multibillion-dollar shortfall in funding to ease the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The letter, signed by Democrats Chris Murphy and Jeanne Shaheen, and Republicans Todd Young and Jerry Moran, showed continuing concern in Washington over the effects of Yemen’s civil war.

They called on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to rally donors and to back calls from Switzerland and Sweden, which hosted this year’s underfunded Yemen pledging conference, for another donors' meeting.

Yemen’s peace talks have hit a roadblock, with UN envoy Martin Griffiths on Wednesday declaring: “We are not where we would like to be in reaching a deal.”

A week-long round of talks in Saudi Arabia and Oman involving Mr Griffiths, US peace envoy Tim Lenderking and others failed to make progress, as the Houthis' offensive on Marib escalated.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis drove the country’s government from the capital, Sanaa.

The war has created what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

"The rainy season is also getting under way, with floods in recent days impacting more than 22,000 people – most of whom were already displaced and living in inadequate shelters," Mr Dujarric said.