UN: Yemen could face famine in 2017, over 2/3 of population in urgent need of aid

Yemen could face famine this year unless immediate action is taken to stop the ongoing conflict that’s led to the deaths of over 7,000 people and has left two-thirds of the nation in dire need of humanitarian aid, the UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien has warned.

"An astounding 10.3 million Yemenis ... require immediate assistance to save or sustain their lives [and] at least two million people need emergency food assistance to survive," O'Brien told the UN Security Council on Thursday. The ongoing conflict in Yemen is “the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world,” he added.

“If there is no immediate action, famine is now a possible scenario for 2017,”he warned. O’Brien noted that more than two thirds of the country’s population - a total of some 18.8 million Yemenis is in need of humanitarian and protection assistance.

O’Brien heads the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and says since the conflict ignited in March 2015, some 7,469 Yemenis have been killed and 40,483 injured, with the true number likely to be higher than these estimations.

Apart from the direct casualties of the armed conflict, there are the so-called ‘silent deaths,’ with people dying from severe food shortages and disease, the majority of them being children. These deaths are largely unrecorded, and their numbers could be much higher. O'Brien said some 2.2 million babies, young boys and girls are “acutely malnourished, and almost half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” which is a 63 percent increase since late 2015, according to UN data.

The UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, also told the UN Security Council the cause of these “tragic consequences for the Yemeni people” is the “dangerous” upsurge in airstrikes and fighting in the region.

The envoy added that every 10 minutes, a child under the age of five is dying in Yemen of preventable causes, warning the situation for children is “especially grave” and has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. He stressed that “there is a clear path out of the violence” and that “the war can be stopped […] with political courage and will.” “I hope Yemen’s leaders will be able to see the impact that this tragedy has had on the country, make the bold decision to commit to a political solution and put an end to the senseless violence,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Council.

Yemen has been engulfed by civil war since September 2014 when Shiite Houthi rebels overthrew President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's internationally recognized government. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries launched a military campaign against Houthi forces to reinstate Hadi.

The UN has been trying to get both sides to agree to a cessation of hostilities and a peace plan to end the bloodshed. However, both sides have been unwilling. Hadi has urged the Houthis to withdraw from all cities and lay down their arms, while the rebels are pressing for a political deal.

The Security Council has repeatedly stressed that without a ceasefire and peace agreement the humanitarian situation could deteriorate further, calling on both warring parties to renew their commitment to a cessation of hostilities.

The past several months have seen an escalation of military activity in the region, with armed hostilities taking place in many areas, including the Sanaa governorate, Taiz city and the border areas between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

RT’s Arabic-language crew recently visited the district of Tuhayat on the Red Sea coast, one of the “acutely affected areas.” Most people there, including children, are starving, and the situation has considerably worsened since the Saudi-led coalition blockaded the coastal area and deprived the locals from fishing, which was their main source of food, coupled with an absence of medical care.

RT’s Arabic crew also filmed shocking scenes of children suffering from acute malnutrition as well as skin diseases and other illnesses at a hospital in Al Hudaydah province. 

Mark Kaye, who heads the humanitarian mission for Save the Children charity in the war-torn state, says both warring factions are to blame for the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. “There’s been a flagrant disregard for the protection of civilians, for international humanitarian law by all parties of the conflict. It is very important – both sides are not condoning the way they should be fighting this war.”

“There is a huge number of children, of innocent civilians who are being killed, maimed, [receive] lifelong disfigurement because of these breaches. The situation is not only getting worse […] we’re not actually seeing much improvement in working towards a peace process solution.”

“It’s the largest humanitarian crisis in the world right now, 18 million people in need of humanitarian assistance [and] I think there is a problem with the amount of coverage that is coming out of Yemen [for] people really to see the human impact of this war,” Kaye told RT.

Saudi Arabia has been mainly buying arms for its operation from the UK - estimated at some 3.3 billion pounds. That includes more than 2.2 billion worth of warplanes, helicopters and drones. The question of Britain’s arm sales to the Saudis has been raised in the UK Parliament on numerous occasions due to the high number of civilians being killed from these weapons.

Mark Kaye told RT the arms deal should be suspended as apart from other reasons it is plainly breaking the UK’s own law.

“UK law on arms says if there’s any clear risk that any weapons they sell might be used in a breach of international humanitarian law, then they should suspend those arms sales. […] There have been numerous verified accounts on violations as attacks on hospitals, attacks on schools, [these] have been breaches. Our understanding would be that there is a clear risk, that they should be suspending those arms sales.”
“It’s important that people are held accountable for when they breach these laws,” he stressed.