Yemen facing ‘outright catastrophe’ over rising hunger, warn UN humanitarians


Today, more than 17.4 million Yemenis are food insecure; an additional 1.6 million “are expected to fall into emergency levels of hunger” in coming months, taking the total of those with emergency needs, to 7.3 million by the end of the year.

Famine to rise fivefold

Of extreme concern to humanitarians is the likelihood that the number of people experiencing “catastrophic”– or famine-like – levels of hunger, will increase five-fold, from 31,000 now, to 161,000,by 31 December.

🔺+4 million displaced by conflict

🔺+12 million need food assistance to survive

🔺Half of all children under 5 face malnutrition

The humanitarian response must continue in #Yemen.

Cuts to food assistance are devastating for millions whose survival depends on it. #YemenCantWait

— World Food Programme (@WFP) March 14, 2022

“These harrowing figures confirm that we are on a countdown to catastrophe in Yemen and we are almost out of time to avoid it,” said World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley.

“Unless we receive substantial new funding immediately, mass starvation and famine will follow. But if we act now, there is still a chance to avert imminent disaster and save millions.”

Fight for Marib

The development comes as heavy fighting was reported over the weekend between Yemeni Government troops and Ansar Allah separatists – also known as Houthi forces – around the oil-rich northern city of Marib, which is still under government control, killing and wounding dozens of combatants.

The fighting took place as UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, ended his first week of consultations with key Yemeni parties in a push for a peaceful and sustainable future for the country which has been locked in escalating conflict since 2015.

Ahead of a High-Level Pledging Event on the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen this Wednesday, the UN’s top aid official in Yemen, David Gressly, said in a tweet that funding was “urgently needed to sustain food and nutrition support, clean water, basic health care and protection. Parties to the conflict can reduce aid reliance by reducing restrictions on the economy.”

The warning from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), followed a surge violence across Yemen, which left at least 47 children killed or maimed in January and February.

Lacking the basics

After seven years of fighting, “many households in Yemen are deprived of basic food needs”, said Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In a search for solutions, the FAO chief added that the agency was working “directly with farmers on the ground to foster their self-reliance through a combination of emergency and longer-term livelihood support, to build up their resilience, support local agrifood production, and offset people’s reliance on imports”.

Empty stomachs

Highlighting the long-lasting, negative impact on children, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell warned that “more and more children” were “going to bed hungry” in Yemen. 

“This puts them at increased risk of physical and cognitive impairment, and even death,” Ms. Russell added. “The plight of children in Yemen can no longer be overlooked. Lives are at stake.” 

An infant eats supplementary food at a World Food Programme distribution point in Mokha, Yemen.

© WFP/Hebatallah Munassar

An infant eats supplementary food at a World Food Programme distribution point in Mokha, Yemen.

For 2022, UNICEF alone requires $484.4 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

According to the latest food insecurity analysis, there’s been a rise in acute malnutrition among children under five in Yemen, and new mothers. 

Across the country – already one of the world’s poorest before conflict escalated – 2.2 million children are now acutely malnourished; an additional 500,000 youngsters face severe acute malnutrition, which is a life-threatening condition. 

Among the worst-hit governorates are Hajjah, Hodeida and Taizz. 

Pregnant or nursing mothers are also at risk from the dire lack of food, with around 1.3 million acutely malnourished, according to the new Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis on Yemen, released on Monday.

“The resounding takeaway (of the IPC findings) is that we need to act now,” said Mr. Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen. “We need to sustain the integrated humanitarian response for millions of people, including food and nutrition support, clean water, basic health care, protection and other necessities.”

Violence to blame

Conflict is widely blamed for creating Yemen’s disastrous economic slide in recent years – and for driving up hunger levels – as the Yemeni Rial’s depreciation pushed food prices in 2021 to their highest levels since 2015. 

Albeit happening thousands of miles away, the Ukraine crisis prompted by the Russian invasion is expected to lead to “significant import shocks” and higher prices, as 30 per cent of Yemen’s wheat imports come from Ukraine.

“Peace is required to end the decline, but we can make progress now,” insisted Mr. Gressly. “The parties to the conflict should lift all restrictions on trade and investment for non-sanctioned commodities. This will help lower food prices and unleash the economy, giving people the dignity of a job and a path to move away from reliance on aid.”