20 Aug 2015

‘Famine for millions’: fears over growing Yemen food crisis

Half a million Yemeni children are suffering from “severe malnutrition”, the UN’s World Food Programme warns, as fears grow the country is heading towards famine.

The Yemeni conflict, between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on one side and forces loyal to the government Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, tribal groups and a Saudi-led coalition on the other, has been raging since March.

We are being forced to live like rats. Abu Ibrahim, Yemeni resident

Before the conflict began, Yemen already had one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said.

But the “perfect storm” cause by the conflict, of a lack of food, clean water and fuel, means Yemen is facing the prospect of a “famine for millions”.

Yemeni child being given water

Credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa

WFP said the number of food insecure people in the country is now 13 million – around half the population – including six million people who are severely food insecure.

“The damage to Yemen’s next generation may become irreversible if we don’t reach children quickly with the right food at the right time,” Ms Cousin said on Wednesday after returning from a three-day visit to Yemen.

“We must act now before it is too late.”

Credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Fighting around major ports will stall commercial and humanitarian supplies entering the country, WFP said, exacerbating the food crisis.

On Tuesday Saudi warplanes destroyed warehouses in the Yemeni port of Hodeida, the main entry point for humanitarian supplies for the north of the country.

Further airstrikes were taking place on Thursday, with coalition targeting an airport in the city of Sana’a. The Saudi coalition has been pushing back the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, reversing the tide of the conflict.

Credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Amnesty International has also warned about the worsening of an “already acute humanitarian situation” in Yemen.

Before the conflict, Amnesty said, 60 per cent of Yemenis required some kind of assistance to meet their basic needs – but the charity said this has now risen to 80 per cent.

“The parties to the conflict have hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid to areas controlled by their opponents, causing a sharp deterioration in the humanitarian situation,” Amnesty said.

Abu Ibrahim, a Yemeni resident, told Amnesty: “We are being forced to live like rats, in the darkness and stifling heat, and all this while we are fasting in Ramadhan. Life is unbearable.”

Above: Saudi-led coalition bombing in Sana’a

Amnesty’s report also accused both sides in the conflict of killing and maiming civilians by attacking, and operating from, residential areas.

The Saudi-led coalition is also carrying out “unlawful” airstrikes that fail to distinguish between military targets and civilian buildings in Houthi areas – killing and wounding civilians.

Amnesty’s report said: “Amnesty International has documented hundreds of cases of civilians, many of them children and women, killed or injured while asleep in their homes or going about their daily activities – fetching water, buying food, visiting relatives.

“Scores were struck in the very places where they had sought refuge after having been displaced from their homes by the conflict.

“Some were killed or injured by mortars and crude Grad-type rockets fired by armed groups, and others by MK-type bombs, some weighing up to 900kg (2,000 lbs), launched by coalition forces.”

Amnesty said that since March Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians.