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ConflictsMiddle East

UN: Yemen on the verge of a 'catastrophic' famine

November 20, 2020

Yemen is in "imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades," UN Secretary-General Guterres has warned. He called for urgent action from the international community to "stave off catastrophe."

A child plays at a displaced camp in Haradh District of Hajjah province, Yemen
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot/M. Al Wafi

The United Nations warned on Friday that war-torn Yemen is on the brink of experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in decades.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement: "In the absence of immediate action, millions of lives may be lost."

Guterres said a drastic reduction in funding for the UN-coordinated relief effort in 2020 was a significant factor behind the desperate situation, as well as the ongoing conflict and obstruction by warring sides to humanitarian work. He said locusts and floods had compounded these issues.

"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," the UN chief said.

Conflict of interests

Conflict broke out in Yemen in 2015 between the government, backed by a Saudi-led military alliance, and Houthi rebels, who control the capital, Sanaa, and areas north and west of the country.

Guterres pleaded with nations not to make any unilateral decisions after the United States threatened to blacklist the Iran-allied Houthi group. Washington sees the move as part of its plan to alienate Iran from other countries in the region.

Aid workers have raised fears that if the US designates the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), it could prevent life-saving aid from reaching Yemen.

"In this very fragile situation in relation to famine and in this hopeful moment in relation to conversations, we believe that any other unilateral initiative will probably not be positive. I don't think we should rock the boat at the present moment," Guterres told reporters when asked about the plans emanating from the US.

The UN has previously described Yemen as the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of people there in need of help.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said the organization had received less than half of what was required this year — about $1.5 billion (€1.27 billion) — for its humanitarian operations in Yemen.

jsi/sms (Reuters, dpa)