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Window for preventing famine in Yemen is closing
The window for preventing famine in Yemen is closing, the UN has warned, as new figures released by the Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, WFP and UNICEF indicate unprecedented levels of food insecurity.
A new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis for Yemen signals that pockets of famine-like conditions (IPC Phase 5) have already returned to Yemen for the first time in two years and that the number of people experiencing such catastrophic levels of food insecurity could nearly triple from 16,500 currently to 47,000 people between January and June 2021.
At the same time, the IPC analysis warns that the number of people facing IPC Phase 4 (emergency) food insecurity is poised to increase from 3.6 million to 5 million people in the first half of 2021 – placing millions on the brink of famine and at risk of falling into catastrophic conditions if aid is not ramped up.
“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. Make no mistake, 2021 will be even worse than 2020 for Yemen’s most vulnerable people. Famine can still be prevented – but that opportunity is slipping away with every day that passes,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP.
Phase 4 is a final call for action –people in Phase 4 on IPC’s hunger spectrum are already suffering enormously and the most vulnerable are at risk of dying of hunger-related causes. Over half the population –16.2 million of 30 million – will face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse (Phase 3+) by mid-2021.Many families are on the threshold of slipping into more acute levels of hunger, exhausted by over five years of war that has left them extremely vulnerable to shocks.
“Keeping people alive by maintaining the flow of food is imperative, but this cycle cannot continue forever. Yemen needs a cessation of conflict, which is the primary driver of food insecurity in the country. Yemeni families need stability and security – and livelihood assistance to help them resume normal food production, so that they require less external support, and can build more resilient and self-sufficient food systems,” said FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu.
Immediate and coordinated humanitarian support is critical to preventing famine and saving lives in Yemen. But significant funding shortfalls threaten lifeline food assistance, life-saving malnutrition services for infants and pregnant and nursing women, and critical livelihood support.
“The world cannot stand by as Yemen slips into famine and millions of vulnerable children and families go hungry,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “The situation is already catastrophic, and without urgent action, more children will die. We have prevented famine in Yemen before, and we should be able to prevent it again, with increased support and with unimpeded access to every child and family in need.”
The spiraling food insecurity crisis is a combination of complex causes: prolonged conflict has driven economic collapse, and a dramatic increase in food prices has affected the south of the country while a blockade on fuel imports has exacerbated the situation in the north. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded suffering as remittances have fallen, earning opportunities have dried up, health services been stretched to the limits and travel restrictions have compromised access to markets. In addition, a locust plague and flash floods have battered local food production in some areas.
Cuts to humanitarian support this year, including food assistance, have erased previous food security gains and left families with worsening food consumption gaps. Next year, aid cuts will continue and the situation will deteriorate without an injection of funding. Agencies warn that their alarming forecasts may underestimate the gravity of the situation, particularly if there are further cuts to the aid budget.
On 20 November, the Secretary-General, António Guterres, urged all those with influence to take immediate action in order to avert a tragedy that will result “not just in the immediate loss of life but with consequences that will reverberate indefinitely into the future.”
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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