The window to prevent famine in Yemen is narrowing as new figures show hunger has reached record levels in the war-torn country, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and UNICEF warned on Thursday.
The number of people experiencing famine-like hunger could almost triple from 16,500 currently to 47,000 people in the first six months of next year, according to New Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis, the three UN agencies said.
Pockets of famine-like conditions have already returned for the first time in two years and the number of people who are unsure where their next meal is coming from is set to rise from 3.6 million to 5 million in the first half 2021. Some of the most vulnerable could die of hunger, the IPC analysis warned.
“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," said WFP's executive director David Beasley.
"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,” Beasley
Over half Yemen's population - 16.2 million out of 30 million - will be facing crisis levels of food insecurity by mid-2021, the three UN agencies warned. Many Yemenis will be staring down the barrel of worsening hunger as over five years of war have exhausted families and left them acutely vulnerable to shocks.
“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.
"Keeping people alive by maintaining the flow of food is imperative, but this cycle cannot continue forever," Qu said.
Significant funding shortfalls threaten yet more cuts to vital food aid and life-saving malnutrition treatment services for children under five years and pregnant or breastfeeding women, and support that keeps households producing the food and income they need to get by, the UN agencies said.
Yemen relies on imports for 80 percent of its food supplies over 70 percent of the population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, making immediate, coordinated support critical to prevent a humanitarian disaster and save lives, the agencies underlined.
“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 surging crisis is a combination of complex causes: intensifying conflict which has brought on an economic collapse, including dramatic food price increases in Yemen’s south, and a fuel import embargo hitting families in northern areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded suffering as remittances have fallen, earning opportunities have dried up, health services been stretched to the limit and travel restrictions have hampered access to markets. On top of that, a locust plague and flash floods have battered local food production in some areas, the agencies noted.
Cuts to humanitarian aid this year will continue in 2021 and may be extended unless funding is urgently received, meaning the alarming IPC forecasts may prove to be an underestimate, warned the agencies.