Yemenis are being starved, ‘Countdown to catastrophe’ UN warned

The United Nations has once again warned of millions of men, women and children in war-torn Yemen are facing famine as it issued yet another appeal for more money to prevent it.

“We are on a countdown right now to a catastrophe,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

“We have been here before … We did almost the same dog-and-pony show. We sounded the alarm then,” the head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning UN body said.

The UN describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of the country’s 30 million people in need of help.

“If we choose to look away, there’s no doubt in my mind Yemen will be plunged into a devastating famine within a few short months,” Beasley told the 15-member council.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthi group, which had captured the capital Sanaa a year earlier.

Since then, more than 100,000 people – fighters and civilians – have been killed.

UN officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as the country’s suffering has also been worsened by an economic and currency collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Yemenis not going hungry, they’re being starved’

In late 2017, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned that Yemen was then facing “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims”.

“We prevented famine two years ago,” Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday. “More money for the aid operation is the quickest and most efficient way to support famine prevention efforts right now.”

He said the world body had received less than half of what it needed – about $1.5bn – this year for its humanitarian operations in Yemen. Last year it received $3bn.

On September 15, Lowcock for the first time singled out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait for not responding to the UN’s appeal.

Days later, Kuwait announced a $20m donation and Saudi Arabia publicly committed to providing $204m to UN aid agencies, part of its $500m pledged in June.

The UAE, which is a part of the Saudi-led coalition, did not announce any funding for this year. On Wednesday, Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen called on its leaders to respond to the UN appeal.

Lowcock described in graphic detail “the horrors inflicted by famine on the body and on the soul,” saying as they starve, people, especially children, are likelier to fall sick or die from diseases they may otherwise have resisted.

For those who escape disease and find nothing to eat, he said, vital organs start to wither and “the body starts to devour its own muscles, including the heart”.

“When I think about what famine would mean, I am really at a loss to understand why more is not being done to prevent it,” Lowcock said.

“It is a terrible, agonising and humiliating death … Yemenis are not ‘going hungry’, they are being starved.”