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Yemen facing growing hunger, economic collapse amid war: UN

Yemen facing growing hunger, economic collapse amid escalating war: UN
4 min read
Last year’s UN appeal for about $3.9 billion to help 16 million people was only 58 percent funded. UN deputy humanitarian chief Ramesh Rajasingham said the international body expects this year’s aid operation to need roughly as much money.
Millions of Yemenis depend on aid amid their country's ongoing crisis [Mohammed Hamoud/Getty-file photo]

Escalating military action in Yemen displaced more than 15,000 people over the past month, killed or injured more than 350 civilians in December and left the Arab world’s poorest nation facing growing hunger and economic collapse with no political solution in sight, senior UN officials said on Wednesday.

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg told the UN Security Council that in the seventh year of conflict the warring parties seem to be seeking military victory. But, he said, "there is no sustainable long-term solution to be found on the battlefield" and both sides must talk even if they are not ready to lay down their arms.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthi rebels took the capital Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the US, entered the war months later seeking to restore the government to power but the alliance, like the Houthis and other factions fighting in Yemen, has been accused of perpetrating grave violations by rights groups.

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The conflict has since become a regional proxy war that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and fighters. The war also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.

"We appear to once more be entering an escalatory cycle with predictable devastating implications for civilians and for the immediate prospects of peace," Grundberg told the council.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are pressing their assault on the key city of Marib, the last government stronghold in northern Yemen, and there is renewed fighting in the southern province of Shabwa where Yemen’s internationally recognised government has recaptured three districts from the Houthis, he said.

Elsewhere, airstrikes have increased not only on the front lines but also in Sanaa, including in residential areas, and in the city of Taiz, he said, while fighting continues in southern Hodeida, where the country’s main port is located, and attacks have increased on neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Grundberg expressed concern that battles could intensify on other fronts, pointing to the Houthis' recent seizure of a ship flying the United Arab Emirates' flag. He also called accusations that ports in mainly Houthi-controlled Hodeida - a lifeline for delivering aid, food and fuel to the country - are being militarised "worrying".

Ramesh Rajasingham, the UN’s deputy humanitarian chief, said fierce fighting is continuing along dozens of frontlines and in December 358 civilians were reportedly killed or injured, "a figure that is tied for the highest in three years".

He said aid agencies assisted 11 million Yemenis every month in 2021 but the UN World Food Programme was forced to cut food assistance to 8 million people due to funding shortages. Other programs providing water, protection for civilians and reproductive health services were also forced to scale back or close in recent weeks because of a lack of funds, he said.

Last year’s UN appeal for about $3.9 billion to help 16 million people was only 58 percent funded - the lowest level since 2015 - and Rajasingham said the UN expects this year’s aid operation to need roughly as much money. He urged donors to sustain and if possible increase their support this year.

Rajaingham also called especially on the Houthis to improve access for humanitarian staff and to stop attempts to interfere with their work. Despite assurances from the Houthis, he said, they have still not provided access to two UN staff members detained in Sanaa in November.

While humanitarian aid is essential, Rajasingham stressed that the biggest drivers of people’s needs are economic collapse accelerated by conflict.

He said humanitarian needs could be reduced by a resumption of foreign exchange injections through the Central Bank as well as policy decisions to lift import restrictions and use import revenues to pay for basic services delivered by public institutions.