There is a “clear and present danger” that the people of Yemen will be engulfed by “an imminent and great big famine,” said the humanitarian chief of the United Nations, Mark Lowcock. The situation, he said, is “much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives.”
Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that “the immune systems of millions of people on survival support for years on end are now are literally collapsing, making them—especially children and the elderly—more likely to succumb to malnutrition, cholera and other diseases.”
Based on new surveys and analysis, Lowcock’s office said as many as 14 million people—about half the country’s population—could soon be “entirely reliant on external aid for survival.” But violence continues in the key port city of Hodeidah, where Saudi-backed Yemeni forces launched an offensive on Houthi rebels earlier this year, so international aid might not reach its targets.
“In the absence of a cessation of hostilities, especially around Hodeidah, where fighting for more than four months now has damaged the key facilities and infrastructure on which the aid operation relies, the relief effort will ultimately be simply overwhelmed,” Lowcock said. “The time, surely, has come for all the parties to heed these warnings.”
As National Public Radio pointed out, the conflict on the southern part of the Arabian peninsula is complex:
The Houthis, a Shiite rebel militia, seized the country’s capital and northwestern regions from its internationally recognized government in 2014. The next year, a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia launched an airstrike campaign against the Houthis, which for their part are backed by the Saudis’ regional rival, Iran. In the years that followed, a complex web of combatants—with an even more tangled skein of interests—have carried on the war in Yemen with few hopes of resolution.
In the midst of the conflict, more than 17,000 civilians have been killed or wounded and at least 3 million people internally displaced. There were more than 1 million suspected cases of cholera last year.
Toward the end of last year, the charity group Save the Children estimated that about 130 children were dying of hunger or disease every day in Yemen.