UNGA 2021: Millions of Yemenis ‘marching towards starvation,’ UN warns at fund-raiser

Aid chiefs gathered virtually at UNGA as Houthi rebels celebrated the seventh anniversary of seizure of Sanaa

Workers unload sacks of wheat flour as people gather outside an aid distribution centre in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

Follow for live UN General Assembly coverage

UN food chief David Beasley on Wednesday said that 16 million Yemenis were “marching towards starvation” at the start of a fund-raising conference for the country, as rebels made gains in an oil-rich region and celebrated their past victories.

Mr Beasley, director of the UN’s World Food Programme, described a worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where a Houthi rebel offensive is making gains in a strategic oil-rich region as the group celebrates the seventh anniversary of their seizure of the capital, Sanaa.

“We're literally looking at 16 million people marching towards starvation,” Mr Beasley told the virtual gathering of aid and development ministers aimed at raising much-needed funds for providing Yemenis with food, fuel and medicine.

“We need this war to end, number one. If donors are getting fatigued, well, end the war. The world leaders need to put pressure on all parties involved in this conflict because the people in Yemen have suffered enough.”

UN figures show that some five million Yemenis are on the edge of starvation as war and drought push the country towards its worst famine in 40 years. Some 21 million people — about three quarters of the country’s population — rely on aid.

Muhsin Siddiquey, the Yemen director for the Oxfam charity, said 99 per cent of Yemenis had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country battled a deadly third wave of infections.

“Vaccination is a simple solution that would save lives, but the international community is failing the people of Yemen who need doses now,” Mr Siddiquey said before the meeting.

“We need the vaccines that have been promised but it is also shameful that having bought up all the vaccines for themselves, rich countries like the UK and Germany are blocking the solutions.”

The meeting came during the annual UN General Assembly, where US President Joe Biden and dozens of other leaders made speeches and met for talks on fighting the pandemic, climate change and hotspots such as Yemen and Afghanistan.

In Yemen on Tuesday, thousands of Houthi supporters rallied in the capital Sanaa to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the removal of the government, as the group's fighters pushed through front lines in oil-producing regions of the country.

A vast crowd of supporters thronged Sanaa's central public squares waving the red, white and black national colours, and chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US. Some carried signs that read “Death to America".

Houthi leader Khaled Al Madani told the cheering crowd that it was the anniversary of “freedom and independence”. Other pro-Houthi rallies were held in northern strongholds, including Saada, Hodeidah and Emran.

Meanwhile, Houthi forces gained ground in the Marib region, the official government’s last stronghold in north Yemen, and the southern area of Shabwa, military officials told Reuters. Both areas are crucial to the country’s oil and gas industry.

The Iran-aligned movement swept into Sanaa and much of north Yemen in 2014 when they toppled the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, who is now living in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and other nations intervened in the war in 2015 to try to restore Mr Hadi's government but the conflict has dragged on, killing tens of thousands and causing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The escalation came as the UN and US envoys for Yemen, Hans Grundberg and Tim Lenderking, visited Saudi Arabia and Oman to try to revive stalled peace talks, which are focused on lifting blockades and enacting a ceasefire.

Updated: September 23rd 2021, 3:53 PM