The window to prevent the return of famine to Yemen is rapidly closing, UN agencies have warned, with a new assessment showing millions could head further into hunger in the coming months.
The alert came as a World Health Organization food security assessment showed thousands of people are slipping into famine – a number that is predicted to triple in the first half of next year – while millions more have seen declining access to food.
An estimated 16,500 people are now facing a “catastrophic, famine-like situation”, which could increase to 47,000 people by June 2021.
The new figures were disclosed as aid agencies warned that less than a half of the emergency funds called for by the UN to help Yemen this year had been delivered. Last month, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the UN security council that the $3.4bn (£2.5bn) appeal for 2020 for Yemen had received only $1.5bn, or about 45%.
He said that by this time last year the UN had received twice as much – almost $3bn.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced additional emergency funding of £14m for Yemen, which he said would take the UK’s contribution to £214m this year.
According to the assessment released on Thursday, more than half of Yemen’s population of 30 million risks slipping into “worsening levels of hunger” by mid 2021, according to a joint statement by the World Food Program, Unicef and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The analysis warns that the numbers of people facing phase 4 food insecurity – the emergency phase – is poised to increase from 3.6 million to 5 million in the first half of 2021 – which, without a change of course, will put the country on the precipice of famine.
Five years of war have exhausted families and left people acutely vulnerable to shocks.
“These alarming numbers must be a wake-up call to the world. Yemen is on the brink of famine and we must not turn our backs on the millions of families who are now in desperate need,” said David Beasley, the World Food Programme’s executive director.
Oxfam’s Yemen director Muhsin Siddiquey said: “It’s intolerable that millions of people in Yemen are one step away from famine and are struggling with catastrophic levels of hunger alongside conflict, Covid and cholera.
“And yet, donors have given barely half the money needed this year to provide the most vulnerable people with basic necessities like clean water, food and medicine.
“As the world grapples with the economic fallout of the pandemic, the international community should not forget the world’s most vulnerable who urgently need lifesaving help, and should make every effort to ensure a peaceful solution to this conflict.”
The conflict in the Arab world’s most impoverished nation began when Iran-backed Shia rebels, known as Houthis, captured the capital of Sana’a in 2014, forcing the internationally recognised government to flee.
The following year, a Saudi-led coalition supporting the government intervened to battle the rebels and curb Iran’s influence in what has turned into a stalemated regional proxy war. Since then, more than 100,000 people – fighters and civilians – have been killed.
“Make no mistake, 2021 will be even worse than 2020 for Yemen’s most vulnerable people,” added Beasley. “Famine can still be prevented – but that opportunity is slipping away with every day that passes.”
In recent months, Yemen has witnessed a significant drop in humanitarian aid as key Arab donor countries fail to fulfil earlier pledges.
“Cuts to humanitarian support this year, including food assistance, have erased previous food security gains and left families with worsening food consumption gaps,” the agencies said. “Next year cuts will continue and may be expanded, unless funding is urgently received.”