Yemen: Action now can avert famine - UN Humanitarian Chief

4 March, 2017
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At the end of a five-day mission to Yemen, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said there is still time to avert famine and alleviate the suffering of millions of Yemenis. 

Mr. O’Brien undertook the mission to assess the humanitarian situation in Yemen a week after UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are at risk of falling into famine if action is not taken now, while two counties of South Sudan are in famine. In Yemen, US$2.1 billion is required to meet the urgent humanitarian and protection needs of 12 million people in 2017. With only US$63 million – or 3 per cent of the requirement – received, Mr. O’Brien encourages donors to contribute now so that life-saving humanitarian programmes can be implemented immediately. 

“We need more than funds. We also need all parties to the conflict to immediately facilitate timely, full and unimpeded humanitarian access,” Mr. O’Brien said. “More suffering and the specter of famine is encroaching on the very people the parties claim to be fighting for – the time is now to prove their seriousness. This includes access to cities, ports and the reopening of airports and airspace.” 

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has worsened since the conflict escalated in March 2015. Today, nearly 19 million people – or more than two-thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance and protection. “More than 7 million people in Yemen do not know where they will find their next meal. Almost 500,000 children under 5 years of age suffer severe acute malnutrition. A child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes,” O’Brien said.

At the start of the mission, Mr. O’Brien flew on the first UN humanitarian flight to Aden. He travelled to Sana’a, Ibb and Taizz governorates, but was denied passage at a checkpoint on the road from Ibb to Taizz city, despite having received assurances of safe passage by all parties for all stages of the mission. “I was outraged that humanitarian efforts to reach people in need were once again thwarted by parties to the conflict,” he said. On 3 March, however, a humanitarian truck carrying eight tons of medicine and medical equipment arrived in Taizz city from Ibb, the first since August 2016. Yemenis need this to be followed with more sustained humanitarian access to all areas in need.

Among the many people affected by the crisis that Mr. O’Brien visited were mothers with their sick and critically malnourished children in hospital wards, displaced people living under extremely difficult conditions in Ibb and Taizz governorates after fleeing fighting in Mokha and Taizz, as well as affected people in the Craitor neighborhood of Aden.

In his meetings with authorities, Mr. O’Brien discussed the humanitarian response, respect for international humanitarian law, and the need for humanitarian access, as well as for commercial imports and flights alongside aid to ensure the needs of Yemenis can be addressed.

The UN and its 120 partners have successfully been providing coordinated assistance in all 22 governorates through hubs in Aden, Hudaydah, Ibb, Sa’ada and Sana’a. They reach 6 million people every month, but more needs to be done. Mr. O’Brien expressed his gratitude to the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Jaime McGoldrick, and the entire humanitarian community, for their dedication to Yemenis in need. “However bleak the outlook, there is still time to alleviate suffering and avert a famine in Yemen,” Mr. O’Brien said at the conclusion of his third mission to Yemen as the UN relief chief.