UN food aid chief visits Yemen, fears famine


The head of the UN food agency warned after a visit to Yemen that his underfunded organization could be forced to seek hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations in a desperate attempt to prevent widespread famine in the coming months. describing the conditions in the war. nation as “hell”.

The World Food Program needs at least $ 815 million in aid to Yemen over the next six months, but it only has $ 300 million, agency executive director David Beasley told The Associated Press in an interview. He said the agency would need another $ 1.9 billion to meet targets for the year.

Beasley visited Yemen earlier this week, including the capital of Sanaa, which is under the control of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. He said that in a child malnutrition room in a hospital in Sanaa he saw children wasting away due to lack of food. Many, he said, were on the brink of death from totally preventable and treatable causes, and they were the lucky ones who were receiving medical care.

He said the world needs to wake up to how bad things have gotten in Yemen, particularly for the country’s youngest, some of whom he had seen in hospital beds at the Sanaa hospital.

“In the children’s ward or a hospital ward, you know that you normally hear crying and laughter. There is no crying, there is no laughter, there is a deathly silence, ”he said Tuesday night, speaking to the AP by videoconference from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he had just landed from Yemen.

“I went from room to room and literally children who would be fine anywhere else in the world would get a little sick but recover, but not here.”

“This is hell,” he said. “It is the worst place in the world. And it’s completely man-made. ”

The UN has warned that 16 million people in Yemen, or about half the population, could face severe food insecurity. Tens of thousands of people already live in conditions of famine, in what aid organizations have called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Some 400,000 children need immediate assistance to save their lives from deadly malnutrition. Worsening fuel shortages could drive millions more into extreme poverty.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Yemen six years ago, UN-led relief efforts have been chronically underfunded. This year’s global fundraising campaign also fell short, more so than in previous years, as aid dollars have been reduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A pledging conference last month raised just over half from the international community than was needed to continue food aid services over the next year.

Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arab world, has been locked in a devastating war since 2014 when the Houthis descended from their northern enclave and seized Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee. In the spring of 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States began a destructive air campaign to dislodge the Houthis while imposing an embargo on land, sea and air on Yemen.

Throughout the conflict, humanitarian agencies have faced obstacles in getting aid to those who need it most, especially in Houthi-controlled territories; obstruction, mistrust and fighting have played a role.

Beasley said her organization has made progress on these fronts, particularly in access and accountability with the Houthi authorities, and now the hurdle is simply a lack of funding.

“We have turned a corner with the Houthis … in terms of cooperation, collaboration,” he said.

He promoted a new program whereby recipients of a cash aid program are verified using a biometric system to ensure that it reaches the right people. It is a scheme that the organization plans to expand, if they can get more funding.

It is not clear where more money could come from. Beasley predicted more catastrophes in 2021 if world leaders do not prioritize helping the most vulnerable countries, including Yemen, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.

“Around May, June and July, if we don’t put massive amounts of money in these places, there will be massive famine, massive destabilization and massive migration,” he said.

One source of funding for Yemen could be a new anonymous aid fund. Beasley confirmed media reports about the Famine Relief Fund, created by wealthy private donors, and said some of them could be from the United States and the Gulf. He said WFP was already in discussions with the fund. He did not want to give more details.

Earlier this month, the aid industry-focused publication The New Humanitarian reported on the emergence of the Famine Relief Fund, created by anonymous benefactors to help address the Yemen crisis, and wrote that it was already in talks. with UN agencies and other aid groups.

Beasley said he has already reached out to the world’s billionaires to contribute in some way. Until now, the only stipulation that came with the money from the new anonymous fund would be that it go to those teetering on the brink of famine, he said.

“My God, I’m going to take whatever dollar I can get from anywhere in the world to save a child’s life right now,” he said.

Beasley repeated calls to stop the war, although the situation on the ground in Yemen is poised for a further escalation as the Houthis and government forces fight for the oil-producing province of Marib. Fighting there has displaced 15,000 people in the past month, many of whom had already fled the conflict in other areas, according to the UN migration agency.

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