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USG Op-ed: Let’s work together to avert imminent famine in Yemen

20 Feb 2021

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© OCHA/Giles Clarke

The following op-ed, written by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, was published online today by Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:

On February 4, President Joe Biden announced the new US position on Yemen, focusing on a diplomatic solution to the conflict and alleviating the suffering of the Yemeni people.

The new US initiative creates the best chance yet to end the war.

The ball is now in the court of the Yemeni parties. It is the responsibility of the Yemeni government as well as Ansar Allah, the Houthis, and the Southern Transitional Council and all their allies and partners to seize this opportunity. All their regional allies should push them to do the right thing.

Yemen is teetering on the edge of a precipice. Six years of conflict have killed thousands of civilians and devastated the economy and the public sector. Two out of every three Yemenis need humanitarian aid to survive.

Yemen and its people are exposed to brutality and exhaustion.

But the most pressing problem in Yemen today is famine. Half a million children under the age of five could die of hunger in the coming weeks if they do not get urgent treatment. Five million more people are one step away from famine.

Gulf nations have played an important role in providing funding for the humanitarian operation in Yemen.

In recent years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has consistently been one of the largest donors, while the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait have also made significant contributions.

This generosity was crucial in averting famine and saving millions of lives there two years ago. The time has come to do it again. The situation is now worse.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also shown itself to be a global leader in adopting an innovative approach to humanitarian aid. It was at the forefront by offering the funds as a block grant and individual grants to UN agencies without conditions. In 2018 and 2019, UN relief agencies received record levels of funding, in large part because of such generous contributions.

Last year proved to be more difficult. The war in Yemen continued, the pandemic hit, and aid agencies had to fight the interference of the warring parties.

Funding for the aid effort fell significantly, especially from neighboring Arab Gulf states. Last year UN relief operations and programs for Yemen received just under $ 2 billion. That's a little more than half of what we got in the previous year and half of what we needed. The World Food Program, for example, has had to cut food aid from 13.5 million people a month to 9 million.

Children are suffering. Children are killed or maimed every day in Yemen because of the conflict. This is not the right moment to turn away from them. No child deserves to die of hunger. To deny a hungry child food is simply cruel.

There is no doubt that financial aid helps save lives. While food alone cannot solve the problems that create humanitarian needs in the first place, it does increase the prospects for peace.

If left unchecked, hunger and conflict will spin in an unending cycle.

Those who hold power in the region rightly take seriously their responsibilities to help end the war in Yemen.

On March 1, the United Nations will hold a high-level donor pledging conference for this year's Yemen relief operation.

It is not enough to maintain the current financial situation. More funds for the relief operation are the fastest and most effective way to prevent widespread famine.

I urge all Gulf nations to return to the levels of funding of 2018 and 2019.

A lack of funding this year would be catastrophic for the country's peace prospects. Poverty and hunger fuel war.

I hope everyone with an interest in Yemen, and the means to help, will step up to help avert mass famine and help bring peace closer.

This is the moment to act if we want to protect Yemen from an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.