CAIRO – The UN humanitarian agency on Sunday warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, with about half a million people in the war-torn country living in starvation-like conditions.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said the risk of large-scale famine in the Arab world’s poorest country “has never been more acute,” adding that years of conflict, economic decline and institutional collapse had been created. huge humanitarian need in all sectors.
The stern warning came a day before a pledge conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will appeal for $ 3.85 billion in humanitarian assistance for Yemen this year.
The response to UN calls is unlikely to live up to expectations, given the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences sweeping economies around the world. Wealthy Gulf donors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who generously contributed to UN calls in 2018 and 2019, drastically reduced aid to Yemen last year. amid the pandemic and corruption in the Yemeni relief effort.
The Yemen war began in 2014 when Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north of the country. The Saudi-led and US-backed coalition intervened months later to expel the rebels and restore an internationally recognized government. The conflict has killed about 130,000 people and gave birth to the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
The majority of Yemenis live in Houthi-controlled areas. The rebels have been implicated in the theft of aid and used access to aid to extort concessions and money. The US, one of the largest donors to Yemen, has suspended millions of dollars in aid to Houthi-controlled areas after reports of theft and looting of aid supplies. UN agencies have long complained about rebels stealing and rerouting food aid.
Monday’s pledge conference came as the Iran-backed Houthis renewed their offensive in the central province of Marib, fueling fears of a new humanitarian crisis in the region that hosts the country’s largest refugee population, according to local authorities.
The province, home to the ancient Great Marib Dam, has served as a sort of haven for some 1 million Yemenis who have fled Houthi attacks since the start of the war, according to UN figures.
The rebels have renewed their offensive into the oil-rich province, holding them back, but facing stiff resistance and heavy air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition. Hundreds, mostly Houthis, died in the fighting.
OCHA said fighting in Marib had displaced more than 8,000 civilians, mainly from Sirwah district, which is home to some 30,000 displaced people in at least 14 camps. Sirwah has witnessed the toughest battles, he said.
The agency warned about the possible displacement of another 380,000 people if fighting reached the actual city of Marib, the provincial capital, where refugee camps are already overcrowded.
In the port city of Hodeida, meanwhile, a blast overnight hit a residential building in al-Hawal district, killing at least five civilians, including a woman and a child, and injuring three others, the UN mission in the strategic city said on Sunday.
The mission, known as UNMHA, did not say the cause of the explosion or who was behind the explosion.
The head of the UN mission to Hodeida, retired General Abhijit Guha, urged the two sides to comply with the 2018 UN-brokered agreement that ended fighting in Hodeida, and allowed UN monitors to access sites of recent and significant military hostilities.
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