UN World Food Programme warns looming famine in Yemen “is a ticking time bomb and the world needs to act now”
As the World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday for its work to eliminate hunger, the organization urged the world to prevent famine, especially in Yemen.
United Nations data on food insecurity released this month indicated that pockets of famine-like conditions in Yemen were already present. The number of Yemenis experiencing this level of food insecurity could nearly triple from 16,500 currently to 47,000 people by June.
Speaking today at a virtual news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Tomson Phiri, spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that “Yemen remains one of the worst humanitarian crises that the world has ever seen”. He added that “what is happening right now is that the window to prevent famine in the country is narrowing very fast. We are running out of time. The number of children that need treatment for acute malnutrition, as I speak, is about 2 million with approximately 360, 000 at risk of dying in case they don’t get any treatment”.
Another 3.6 million Yemenis are just one degree of hunger away from famine, and that could rise to 5 million by June says the UN data. In total, the U.N. said, more than 16 million people -– over half of Yemen’s population – will be facing crisis levels of food insecurity by mid-2021.
“We are also concerned about pregnant or nursing women who also require treatment for acute malnutrition. There are, as I speak to you right now, that number stands at approximately 1 million”, Tomson Phiri reported. He added that “we are talking of a population of about 30 ½ million, yet 24,3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance of some kind, and approximately 60 million people cannot put food on their tables. This is a disaster, this is a ticking time bomb and the world needs to act and to act now”, Tomson Phiri said.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns that hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Yemenis are at heightened risk of food insecurity as livelihoods have been lost to the combined effects of ceaseless violence and COVID-19 pandemic.
Its spokesperson Babar Baloch said today that “food insecurity is prevalent in areas of conflict, where half of Yemen’s four million displaced population resides. They live in and around the 16 districts worst affected by acute food insecurity, in Marib, Al Bayda, Abyan, Taizz, Hadramautand and Al Jawf governorates. They are increasingly at risk of famine-like conditions”.
UNHCR is particularly concerned about the impact on the most vulnerable among the internally displaced people (IDPs). Six years of conflict have taken a brutal toll on civilians, pushing one in eight Yemenis into displacement.
“Women are disproportionately impacted, in a country where socio-cultural norms often restrict their access to work”, said UNHCR’s Babar Baloch. “Many IDP women, including single and widowed women, report feeling excluded from humanitarian aid in Yemen because of cultural and social obstacles which restrict them from going out to provide for their families”.
For many, conflict, displacement and gender inequity only compound the hardships and difficulties they face. With rampant inflation and few livelihood opportunities, families no longer can afford basic meals.
“To put food on the table, many displaced families are selling off belongings, pulling children out of school and sending them to work, begging on the streets, or eating just once a day”, Babar Baloch said.
The UN Refugee Agency is stepping up its support to the displaced families and their hosts in Yemen through direct cash assistance this winter.
Yemen faced a similar threat of famine in late 2018, but it was averted with an emergency economic package and the widespread scale-up of humanitarian assistance.