The coronavirus scourge is a dominant theme at this year’s United Nations General Assembly, forcing the gathering to be conducted largely online. But the pandemic is also fueling another crisis that preoccupies the organization and humanitarian groups: the strong prospect of famine in some of the world’s most destitute places.
Nowhere is a famine more likely than in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, which has been affected by the war between the Houthi rebels and a Military coalition led by Saudi Arabia Defending a weak government with little or no control over most of Yemeni territory.
A famine in Yemen was averted 2018, aided in part by an infusion of emergency aid and pressure on the Saudis to ease a blockade. But the war has widened since then, and US officials say access to many areas, particularly in the Houthi-controlled north, has been blocked.
Combined with donor fatigue, a decline in the value of the Yemeni currency, a lack of fuel and the coronavirus that may emerge Spread uncontrolled in the countryThe famine is knocking again “definitely on the door – it is looming,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, the United Nations’ anti-hunger arm.
In an interview, Mr Beasley said he would need $ 500 million over the next six months to feed Yemenis at half the usual ration rate. Additionally, he said, “Even if we get the money, we may still have famine due to delays and obstacles in delivery.”
Around 80 percent of the country’s 30 million people need food aid, but the United Nations can cut aid if it is needed more than ever.
“Yemen is without a doubt our biggest problem area in the world,” said Beasley. “What happens is regrettable, shameful.”
The Houthi leaders refused, Mr Beasley said, when his agency insisted on ensuring that their food aid reaches its intended recipients and is not diverted or sold for a profit. Such assurances include a biometric identification system, which Beasley said the Houthis had not allowed despite them previous commitment.
Mr Beasley and other senior relief officials reiterated their alarm Wednesday at a special session of the General Assembly to address Yemen and food insecurity. Aaron Brent, Yemen country director of the international anti-poverty group CARE, said the meeting “confirmed what we as humanists already knew – that the situation in Yemen is deteriorating significantly and visibly.”
United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said at his daily briefing on Thursday that nearly half of all Yemeni children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition, 15 of the 41 major United Nations programs in Yemen have been scaled down or discontinued and 30 more will die Closing or curtailing services in the coming weeks without further funding.
The President of the Saudi Arabia-backed government of Yemen, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, used his pre-recorded address to the General Assembly on Thursday to appeal to the Houthi rebels to facilitate the distribution of further aid to the United Nations. Mr Hadi delivered the speech from Saudi Arabia, where he has basically lived in exile since the Houthis drove his government from the capital, Sana, more than five years ago.
While the Houthis are not the only antagonists of the conflict hindering aid delivery, they are increasingly viewed as a problem by humanitarian groups. A report from Human Rights Watch last week, the Houthis accused of deliberately obstructing the delivery of emergency equipment and other goods as a bargaining device.
The Houthis also prevented a U.N. team from taking those from Safer, a abandoned fuel tanker near the port of Hudaydah, which threatens to spill four times as much oil as the Exxon Valdez.
While the Saudis have made an important contribution to humanitarian aid in Yemen, they are also a main enemy in the war and see the Houthis as proxies for their regional adversary Iran. Saudi Arabian bombings in Yemen have been a leading cause of death and destruction.
A report The Norwegian Refugee Council, a leading humanitarian group, announced Thursday that Yemeni farms had been hit by air strikes and shelling more than 900 times in less than three years. Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Council and a former senior US humanitarian aid officer, described the attacks as part of the “senseless war” that has shaken Yemen’s ability to feed itself.
“Yemenis do not starve to death,” said Egeland Twitter. “They are being pushed into the abyss by men with arms and power.”
Yemen is not the only country at risk of possible famine. Mark Lowcock, United Nations Chief Auxiliary Officer, warned this month This famine looms in parts of South Sudan, northern Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Under a Five scale monitoring system Phase 3 is a crisis, phase 4 is an emergency and phase 5 is famine – characterized by “hunger, death, misery and extremely critical acute malnutrition”.
It is believed that at least 16 Houthis-controlled districts in Yemen are in phase 4 – one step away from the famine.
Mr Beasley said he had no way of knowing when phase 5 might be reached. But he said, “If you see there’s a famine, it’s too late – we have to get there.”