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UN: Over 16 million people in war-torn Yemen to go hungry this year

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A Yemeni woman sits by the bedside of 10-year-old girl Ahmadia Abdo, who weighs ten kilograms due to acute malnutrition, at a camp for the internally displaced in Yemen's northern Hajjah Governorate, on January 23, 2021 (Photo by AFP)

 A UN humanitarian agency has warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen would go hungry this year as Saudi war and siege continue to take heavy toll on the impoverished nation.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday that already some half a million people in the war-torn country were living in famine-like conditions.

It added that the years-long conflict, economic decline, and institutional collapse created enormous humanitarian needs in all sectors.

The stark warning comes a day before a pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland where the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will appeal for USD 3.85 billion in relief aid for Yemen this year.

The response to the UN appeal is unlikely to meet expectations, given that the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences hit economies around the globe.

Four United Nations (UN) agencies earlier this month warned that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five were projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year in war-torn Yemen. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement on February 12 said that of the overall figure, about 400,000 children were expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they did not receive urgent treatment.

The UN agencies said that the figures showed an increase in acute malnutrition and in severe acute malnutrition of 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively, compared to 2020.

They further warned that about 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women were also expected to suffer from extreme malnutrition in 2021.

The OCHA on Sunday also warned about possible displacement of another 380,000 people if the ongoing fighting in Yemen's central province of Ma’rib reached provincial capital, where camps for displaced people are already crowded.

In recent weeks, Yemeni army troops and allied fighters from Popular Committees have made new advances against Saudi-led coalition militants in Ma’rib, flushing them out of several districts and edging closer to final victory.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies, with logistical and intelligence support from the US and several Western countries, launched the brutal war on Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to restore a Riyadh-friendly regime that had been toppled in a popular uprising.

The war has taken a heavy toll on Yemen's infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories.

Children are among the most vulnerable victims of the Saudi war on Yemen, but the issue has barely drawn any international response.

The UN children's agency warned in late June last year that the shortage of humanitarian assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic threatened to push more children in Yemen to the brink of starvation.

Yemen turning into broken state, beyond repair: UN official

Also on Sunday, the United Nations Development Program's country director, Auke Lootsma, told AFP in an interview that the war in Yemen is turning the impoverished country into an "unviable state" that will be almost beyond repair.

The official, who was talking ahead of a donor conference aimed at averting a famine in Yemen, warned that with so much damage to its infrastructure as a result of the Saudi-led war and blockade against the impoverished country, Yemen is now witnessing "the worst development crisis in the world."

"Yemen has lost more than two decades of development progress... and is definitely one of the poorest, if not the poorest country in the world at the moment, given the negative development indicators that we see," Lootsma said Sunday.

The UN official added, “If you continue like this, Yemen as a country will be very difficult to rebuild. If more assets get destroyed and people become poorer and poorer, then it will become almost like an unviable state.”

"The international community should rally around Yemen and come forward with a great number of pledges that will help us to prevent a widespread famine" in the country, Lootsma said, explaining that during 2020, the UNDP had to prioritize its programs and scale down the number of people who normally benefit.

"It is important to understand that the famine in Yemen is very much an income famine, so it's not necessarily a situation whereby food is not available," he said.

"But Yemenis are not really able to afford a minimum food basket or a minimum food supply in the household that will give them enough nutrition to survive the day," Lootsma added.

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