An estimated 50,000 people already live in famine-like conditions in Yemen, and more than 16 million people throughout the country will go hungry this year unless urgent interventions are made, according to the United Nations.
The growing hunger crisis threatens two-thirds of children under the age of 5 in the country, including 400,000 who are at risk of acute malnutrition. Yemen’s deteriorating situation, potentially the worst famine in decades, is part of a global surge in hunger as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted humanitarian efforts, food systems, and exacerbated existing inequalities and injustices.
“For most people, life in Yemen is now unbearable,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “Childhood in Yemen is a special kind of hell. This war is swallowing up a whole generation of Yemenis. We must end it now and start dealing with its enormous consequences immediately. This is not the moment to step back from Yemen.”
The UN released its latest call to action ahead of a pledging summit co-hosted by the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland. The UN called on donor nations to commit $3.85 billion to the humanitarian response in Yemen, but only managed to raise $1.7 billion by the day’s end.
“Cutting aid is a death sentence,” Gutteres said after the event. “The best that can be said about today is that it represents a down payment.”
The UN also used the platform to call for peace efforts in the embattled country.
Peace talks have gotten a boost since the US President Joe Biden took office and ended the country’s support of the war and pledged to pursue peace in the country. While the US was not directly involved in the war, it supplied arms to a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, whose leaders continually bombed Yemen.
David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, called on the US to help fund relief efforts in the country after having enabled the situation for so long.
“The decisions of the Biden administration to abandon a failed war strategy are a start, but the people of Yemen need much more,” Miliband said. “We call on the world’s wealthiest countries to turn around and give support.”
The crisis in Yemen goes far beyond the looming famine, affecting nearly every facet of life. The civil war that began in 2014 has killed 233,000 people, destroyed key infrastructure like water wells and hospitals, undermined the entire economy, and left millions of people without access to water, food, electricity, and health care.
In recent years, the UN has struggled to reach its fundraising targets for the crisis and faced its steepest deficit yet in 2020, only raising 56% of its requested $3.4 billion largely due to the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funds raised by the UN go to a variety of purposes including food distribution, providing health care and nutritional support, and ensuring people have access to clean water. Every month, humanitarian aid reaches an estimated 12 million people in the country. The World Food Programme alone delivers around 130,000 metric tons of food per month.
For aid groups working in Yemen, reaching the most vulnerable populations is made more difficult by the ongoing conflict. In fact, the UN has to notify armed groups before it delivers humanitarian supplies to an area otherwise it’s employees risk getting attacked.
Humanitarian shipments of food or supplies have to be coordinated through OCHA, which ensures that trucks receive clearance and will be protected as they travel. These trucks bear large signs identifying their affiliation with the UN that are visible to fighter planes in the sky to prevent bombings.
There are more than 30 front lines in Yemen where active conflict occurs. The UN and its partners are unable to reach a region because of a blockade or because it’s simply too dangerous. That’s why the UN is committed to ending the war — because the delivery of critical supplies like food will be much easier if the country transitions to a state of peace.
“We are at a crossroads with Yemen,” Mark Lowcock, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement. “We can choose the path to peace or let Yemenis slide into the world’s worst famine for decades. An adequately funded aid operation will prevent the spread of famine and create the conditions for lasting peace. If you’re not feeding the people, you’re feeding the war.”