Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock - Remarks at UK/Sweden event - Panel discussion on Yemen, 10 December 2020

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Moderator question: Mark Lowcock you warned the UNSC [UN Security Council] on 11 November that Yemen was being starved. How did we get to this point? And how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again? Mark over to you.

USG/ERC response: Well thank you very much Barbara [UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations]. Thank you to you and Anna-Karin [Sweden’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations] for putting on the event. And thank you for the presentations that have been made so far which crystallise the issues very clearly, I think.

I’ve lost count of the number of briefings I’ve given in the Security Council on this topic. And I set out in a rather bureaucratic and technocratic way every month the latest developments. And you’ve just quoted the last thing I said: Yemenis are being starved.

What I am going to do today, and I hope we can make the technology work, is to show you some pictures which amplify what this actually means for people.

Yemenis are being starved. That is the heart of it. And the statistics released last week are shocking. Amir [Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme] will speak to this.

It’s the war that’s pushing Yemen towards famine. That’s how we got to this point. The economy is collapsing as Nick (Dyer) said. And donors are offering much less help this year. Not western European or American donors but other key donors.

And so, what we’ve got now is the result of decisions taken by powerful people in Yemen and other countries. And that’s what I meant when I said that Yemen was being starved. Those same powerful people could just as easily choose not to starve Yemen.

This is Fawaz with his mother Roqaya. I met him in Aden last time I was there. His family had fled the fighting from Hudaydah earlier that year. They were living in a crowded school with hundreds of other families. They had no income.

And you could see the effects of all this on little Fawaz’s body in the picture. This is what conflict and economic collapse and no help do. This is what a child being starved looks like. This is the grief that their family endure

Six months later though, Fawaz was doing much better.

Here he is with his mother after many weeks of intensive treatment for malnutrition. As Nick [Dyer] said, Fawaz, and millions of other people like him, received the help they needed to survive in 2019.

So, what made that possible?

Well powerful people made decisions to help. The world took action.

Humanitarian funding increased sharply in 2019, enabling aid agencies to save millions more lives. Yemen’s partners injected foreign exchange into the economy, which helped keep food and other commodities affordable for people.

And of course, we had the Stockholm Agreement.

So, it’s not rocket science to know what needs to happen. It’s the things that were done in 2018 and 2019. But the problem is today, those things are not happening.

Violence is increasing.

Economic support has dried up.

And funding for the aid operation has plummeted.

Agencies this year received only about half as much money as last year. That’s why we’ve cut the number of people receiving food aid. And we’ve closed clinics. And we’ve closed water stations. So, it’s unsurprising when we say that the results confirm that famine-like conditions are back in Yemen. Yemen is again being starved.

And you can see the effects of that on little Abdo here. This photo was taken in Aden in his hospital bed about two weeks ago.

The war damaged Abdo’s village in Hudaydah and destroyed his family’s ability to make a living for themselves. So, they had no food. As he grew sicker, his family fled to try to get help for him. Several facilities actually turned them away because they didn’t have the means to treat such a severe case.

Anyway, after days of travelling, they reached Aden. When Abdo was admitted to hospital, the nurses noticed that he chewed on his hands because he was so hungry.

He spent weeks in treatment.

Many children never recover from malnutrition even when they are treated on time. Many do recover as Fawaz did, as I told you earlier.

But for Abdo it was too late. And he died on 3 December.

There are millions of children just like Abdo right now in Yemen. And the situation they face, arises from the decisions that powerful people have taken.

If we want to avoid a huge famine in Yemen, people need to take different decisions.

*For photos see: Inside Yemen: A hospital on the frontline of Yemen's food crisis

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