Angelina Jolie to join Yemen aid meeting as hunger ‘catastrophe’ worsens

Actress last week visited poorest Arab nation where continuing war is pushing 19 million people into hunger

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Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie will take part in this week’s donor meeting on Yemen as the country hurtles towards “catastrophe”, with 17.4 million people needing food handouts as funding dries up, the UN said on Monday.

Jolie, celebrity envoy for the UN refugee agency, will on Wednesday join officials at a virtual fundraiser for Yemen, which has been battered by seven years of war between rebel, pro-government and foreign forces.

The humanitarian last week visited Yemen and met residents in the south and rebel-held north to “draw attention to the devastating impact of the war”, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York on Monday.

The donor meeting scheduled for March 16 represents "an opportunity to demonstrate that the world has not forgotten Yemen, even as other crises are demanding global attention”, said Mr Haq.

“We call on all donors to pledge generously and to disburse funds quickly.”

UN agencies meanwhile gave a warning that Yemen was “on the edge of outright catastrophe”, with 17.4 million people needing food handouts and an additional 1.6 million set to fall into “emergency levels” of hunger within months.

Children have been particularly affected, said the UN World Food Programme and other agencies, with 2.2 million youngsters acutely malnourished, more than a million of them so hungry they could starve to death.

“We need to act now,” said David Gressly, the UN’s aid co-ordinator for Yemen.

“The parties to the conflict should lift all restrictions on trade and investment for non-sanctioned commodities.”

UN aid chiefs worry that donor fatigue will undermine this week’s meeting, as governments shift spending to Ukraine, Afghanistan and other global hotspots.

Jolie said last week that appeals were “underfunded globally” and urged donors to give generously.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday said Yemen and other “vulnerable” nations were being hit by the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24.

Russia and Ukraine account for more than half of global sunflower oil supplies and about 30 per cent of its wheat. Grain prices have already exceeded those at the start of the Arab uprisings, Mr Guterres said.

Angelina Jolie, US actor and UNHCR special envoy for refugees, talking with a girl at a site in southern Yemen last week. EPA

“Food, fuel and fertiliser prices are skyrocketing,” said the UN chief, while warning that shockwaves from the European conflict were being felt in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Congo, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

“This is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.”

Yemen has been mired in chaos since Houthi rebels ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa in early 2015.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened a few months later to try to restore the government.

Fighting has claimed more than 370,000 lives, directly and indirectly, the UN says, and caused widespread suffering, with four fifths of Yemen’s 30 million people needing handouts.

Updated: March 14, 2022, 7:30 PM