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  • A Yemeni cares for his malnourished child as he gets medical attention at a malnutrition treatment ward of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, 15 November 2020.

    A Yemeni cares for his malnourished child as he gets medical attention at a malnutrition treatment ward of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, 15 November 2020. | Photo: EFE/EPA

Published 20 November 2020
Opinion

According to reports, the United Nations has warned that millions of Yemenis face a looming famine due to a massive shortfall in humanitarian aid funding, describing war-torn Yemen as the world's most massive humanitarian crisis, 80 percent of the country's 29 million people in need of help.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that war-torn Yemen is in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen in decades. "In the absence of immediate action, millions of lives may be lost," Guterres said on Friday of the country that has endured a five-year war between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and government forces.

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Guterres' warning comes as the United States threatens to blacklist the Houthi group as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran. Aid workers have raised fears such a move would prevent life-saving aid from reaching the country and make things even worse in Yemen.

In his statement, Guterres made only an indirect reference to this possibility. "I urge all those with influence to act urgently on these issues to stave off catastrophe, and I also request that everyone avoids taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse," he said. Guterres said the reasons for the heightened threat of famine include a sharp drop in funding for the UN-coordinated relief program, the instability of the Yemeni currency, and the warring parties imposing "impediments" for relief organizations.

 

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthi group. Western powers, including the U.S, assist the coalition.

The Houthi rebels control the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and much of the north after a grinding war that has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The U.S. labeling the rebels a "terrorist" group would mean many countries would have trouble interacting with the Houthis. The effect on the Houthis, who are already under U.S. sanctions, may be limited. Still, ordinary Yemenis could pay the price, with further damage to aid programs already cut back due to record-low funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Everything from dealing with Houthi officials, handling taxes, using the banking system, paying health workers, buying food and fuel, and arranging internet services could be affected, humanitarian groups say.

U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as their suffering is worsened by an economic and currency collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic. U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock has said the U.N. has received less than half of what it needed this year – about $1.5bn – for Yemen's humanitarian operations. Last year it received $3bn.

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