UNITED NATIONS—UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien on Sunday called upon all the warring parties in Yemen to start a political dialogue to bring an early end to the ongoing conflict in order to avoid a famine.
O’Brien, who is also the UN emergency relief coordinator, issued the statement at a time when “this week sadly marks two years since the terrible escalation of the conflict in Yemen.”
“Most of all, the Yemeni people need the parties to commit to political dialogue, or this man-made crisis will never end. In the meantime, together we can — we must — avert this famine, this human catastrophe,” the statement said.
“The parties to the conflict must also facilitate immediate, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian access,” the statement said. “They must also facilitate commercial access, which will be critical to reversing the massive food insecurity and ensuring that people’s basic needs can be met.”
“Man-made conflict has brought Yemen to the brink of famine,” the statement said. “Today nearly 19 million Yemenis –over two-thirds of the population — need humanitarian assistance. Seven million Yemenis are facing starvation.”
According to the United Nations, a famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
Despite international efforts to bring about a comprehensive negotiated political settlement, the sounds of airstrikes, bombs, bullets and artillery are now familiar to daily life, the statement said. “They are too often the sound of another death.”
Many thousands of civilians have been killed, including well over 1,400 girls and boys, and tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been injured during the two-year civil war.
“But, casualty figures belie the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding in Yemen,” said the statement.
“Conflict, insecurity, and the cynical tactics of the warring parties have wrecked Yemen’s economy, made food increasingly scarce, displaced 3 million people from their homes, and impeded the work of humanitarians — whose only aim is to alleviate suffering and save lives,” the statement.
O’Brien said in the statement that during his third visit to Yemen only weeks ago, he saw terrifying evidence of looming famine.
“In the hospital ward, the complete stillness of the tiny malnourished child whose eyes focus on nothing,” the statement said. “The grim realization that these patients were the fortunate ones who could access a hospital and might survive.”
“What about all the others — out of sight? Out of mind?” the statement said. “That is precisely what we cannot allow to happen. There is still time to avert a catastrophe in Yemen.”
The UN and partners are already providing life-saving assistance in all of Yemen’s 22 governorates, reaching almost 6 million people every month, the statement said.
“We can and must do more, but urgent funding is needed in coming weeks — or it will be too late,” the statement said.
Earlier this month, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that families in some of the war-torn Yemen’s most food insecure areas will die unless the international community provides additional resources and authorities in Yemen allow aid workers access to hungry people.
The two-year long conflict has worsened chronic food insecurity in the Middle East country, which was already considered one of the poorest in the world.
The civil conflict had started since the UN-backed government was ousted by the Houthi militants in late 2014. It triggered a Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in late March 2016, which has been deepening the country’s suffering.