The fight against famine is being lost in Yemen, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief has warned. Mark Lowcock called the situation “bleak” and told the Security Council it had “deteriorated in an alarming way in recent weeks”.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he said. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.”
Mr Lowcock said two recent developments threaten to overwhelm the aid operation – a “dramatic economic collapse” that has reduced the value of Yemen’s currency by some 30 per cent and intensified fighting around the Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is key to deliveries of food, medicine and other vital supplies. Intensified fighting in recent weeks around Hodeida is “choking the lifeline” for getting aid to those in need, he added. Fighting in recent days has cut the main road from Hodeida to the country’s capital, which is the principal conduit for both commercial importers and aid groups for moving supplies, he said. Other routes are heavily damaged, he said. Mr Lowcock also urged that ports be kept open, warning that “the lifeline through which the aid operation runs now hangs by a thread”.
Because almost all Yemenis rely on imported food, Mr Lowcock said, the currency depreciation “translates directly into a sharp increase in the price of food for some 10 million Yemenis” who aren’t getting enough food but aren’t part of the aid operation. There has also been an “unprecedented increases” in the price of fuel, he said.
Mr Lowcock said that during the first six months of this year, the United Nations and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don’t know where their next meal will come from. Last year food was reaching 3 million people a month. Armed groups have occupied humanitarian facilities, and attacks have resulted in dozens of deaths and serious damage to public health and water facilities as well as other aid infrastructure, Mr Lowcock said, adding: “We estimate that an additional 3.5 million people may soon be added to the 8 million already severely food insecure.”
He urged the Security Council to press for immediate measures to stabilise Yemen’s economy and support the exchange rate, including ensuring liquidity for the central bank and implementing longstanding commitments to pay salaries of teachers, doctors, health workers and other public service employees throughout the country.
He called for the protection of civilians, schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, the establishment of “an air bridge” for medical evacuations and serious negotiations on “a positive path towards peace”.