Conflict-torn Yemen “is falling off a cliff” and will face the worst famine the world has seen for decades unless donors and particularly its Gulf neighbours, donate generously to this year’s UN humanitarian appeal for $3.85 billion, the UN humanitarian chief warned Wednesday.
Mark Lowcock said Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which contributed generously to UN appeals in 2018 and 2019, cut back drastically last year. This forced aid agencies to reduce the number of Yemenis receiving food and other humanitarian aid from 13-14 million every month in 2019 to just 9 million in 2020, he said.
The 4 million people who didn’t receive food last year “are among those essentially in the long, slow, brutal, painful, agonising process of starving to death,” Lowcock told a virtual briefing for a group of reporters.
He spoke ahead of Monday’s pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would apply for $3.85 billion.
“Without that funding, a lot more people will die, there could be catastrophic prospects unleashed in the country,” Lowcock warned. “Because of the state in the country now, where there (are) already pockets of famine, what we’re going to see is the worst famine the world has seen for decades. So, there is a lot at stake and there’s an urgency.”
The devastating war in the Arab world’s poorest nation exploded in 2014, when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa and most of the country’s north. That prompted a US-backed Arab military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to intervene months later in a bid to restore the government of Yemeni President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi to power.
The war has killed around 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Lowcock said US President Joe Biden’s new Yemen policy aimed at ending the six-year war and halting support for the coalition and the way it has been embraced particularly by Saudi Arabia, “does create a major opportunity for peace and progress in Yemen.”
“That creates probably the biggest opportunity that we’ve seen since 2016 to find a resolution,” he said.
Lowcock emphasised that in order to maintain the situation in the world “stable” for the peace process to have a chance, the humanitarian situation must improve to where it was in 2019 when 13-14 million people every month were getting food — and that needs $3.85 billion funding.
Last year’s $3.4 billion appeal received just around $1.8 billion, he said, with the UN receiving just $300 million of the $500 million that Saudi Arabia pledged, only a “modest” contribution from the UAE and Kuwait just coming in with a late $20 million pledge, he said.