The United Nations warns of mass starvation in Yemen before the donors conference


Cairo (AFP) – A United Nations humanitarian agency warned on Sunday that more than 16 million people in Yemen will suffer from hunger this year, with nearly half a million people in the war-torn country living in starvation-like conditions.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said the risk of widespread famine in the poorest country in the Arab world “has never been more acute,” adding that years-long conflict, economic decline, and institutional collapse. The immense humanitarian needs in all sectors.

The stark warning comes a day before the pledging conference hosted by Sweden and Switzerland. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will request $ 3.85 billion in relief aid to Yemen this year.

The response to the UN appeal is unlikely to meet expectations, given that the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences have hit economies around the world. Rich Gulf donors, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who contributed generously to the UN appeals in 2018 and 2019, significantly reduced their aid to Yemen last year.

The Yemen war began in 2014 when the Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north of the country. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, intervened months later to drive out the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government. The conflict has killed nearly 130,000 people and resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Monday’s pledging conference comes as the Iran-backed Houthis renewed their attack on the central province of Marib, raising fears of a new humanitarian crisis in the region hosting the largest number of displaced people in the country, according to local authorities.

According to United Nations figures, the governorate, the site of the ancient Great Ma’rib Dam, has served as a haven for around one million Yemenis who have fled Houthi attacks since the start of the war.

The rebels renewed their attacks on the oil-rich province, a stronghold against them, but they faced stiff resistance and violent air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition. Hundreds of people, mostly Houthis, have been killed in the fighting.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the fighting in Marib has displaced more than 8,000 civilians, especially from the Serwah area, which hosts about 30,000 displaced people in at least 14 camps. She added that Sirwah witnessed the heaviest fighting.

The agency warned that 380,000 more people could be displaced if the actual fighting reaches the city of Marib, the provincial capital, where the camps for the displaced are already crowded.

Meanwhile, the United Nations mission in the strategic city said on Sunday that an explosion occurred in the coastal city of Hodeidah, killing at least five civilians and wounding three others overnight in a residential area in Al-Hawal area.

The mission, known as UNMHA, did not specify the cause of the explosion or who was behind it.

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