UN agencies warn window to prevent famine in Yemen narrowing

CAIRO (AP) — The window to prevent a famine in war-torn Yemen is narrowing, with a new study showing that millions of people in the country will face some form of food crisis next year, U.N. agencies warned 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.

“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, WFP’s executive director.

The conflict in the Arab world’s most impoverished nation began when Iran-backed Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, captured the capital of Sanaa in 2014, forcing the internationally recognized 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.

The number of Yemenis poised to face an “emergency phase” of food insecurity — a prelude to famine — is expected to increase from 3.6 million to 5 million in the first half of 2021, said the U.N. statement. The emergency phase means people are suffering “enormously,” with some of the most vulnerable dying of hunger, according to the statement.

The three U.N. agencies also warned that the number of Yemenis currently suffering famine-like conditions could triple from 16,500 to 47,000 people between January and June 2021.

”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 failed to fulfill earlier pledges. Last month, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council that the $3.4 million U.N. humanitarian appeal for 2020 for Yemen had received only $1.5 billion, or about 45%. By comparison, he said, last year at this time the U.N. had received twice as much — almost $3 billion.

“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 also said. “Next year cuts will continue and may be expanded, unless funding is urgently received.”

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