The United Nations aid chief sounded the alarm at the body's Security Council Tuesday that half the population of war-torn Yemen — some 14 million people — could soon be on the brink of famine and completely relying on humanitarian aid for survival.
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"There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen: much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives," U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said.
He described the scale of what was being faced in Yemen as "shocking" given that only two famines had been declared in the world in the past 20 years — Somalia in 2011 and a localized famine in South Sudan last year.
The war in Yemen, which has been ongoing since 2015, killing or injuring over 60,000 people in a country considered to be the poorest country in the Middle East. A Saudi-led military coalition backed by the United States along with other western powers such as the U.K. and France, backing government forces are fighting a Houthi rebel group, which has taken control of part of the country.
Lowcock said the United Nations currently coordinates the delivery of aid to some eight million people in Yemen and that the humanitarian crisis has been deepened by an economic crisis and continued fighting around the country's key Hodeidah port. Yemen traditionally imports 90 percent of its food.
He appealed for a humanitarian ceasefire, protection of the supply of food and essential goods across the country, a larger and faster injection of foreign exchange into the economy through the central bank, increased humanitarian funding and support, and for the warring parties to engage in peace talks.
"Beyond the sheer numbers, while millions of people have been surviving on emergency food assistance for years, the help they get is enough merely to survive. Not to thrive. The toll is unbearably high," Lowcock said.
"The immune systems of millions of people on survival support for years on end are now literally collapsing, making them – especially children and the elderly – more likely to succumb to malnutrition, cholera, and other diseases," he said.