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Five Million Yemenis ‘One Step Away From Famine’– UN Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council


Malnutrition rates in Yemen are at “record highs” as
the country is “speeding towards the worst famine the
world has seen in decades”, the UN EmergencyRelief
Coordinator told the Security Council on Thursday, citing
newly released data.

“We are running out of time”,
said
Mark Lowcock, who also heads UN humanitarian affairs, noting
that across Yemen, more than 16 million people are going
hungry, five million of whom are “just one step away from
famine”.

He painted a picture of children starving
to death – with distended bellies, emaciated limbs and
blank stares, pointing to some 400,000 under-age-five girls
and boys who are so severely malnourished that they are in
“their last weeks and months”.

Important
opportunity

Over fears of the devastating impact it
could have on Yemen’s food supply, last week the United
States reversed its designation of Ansar Allah as a foreign
terrorist organization.

“US officials
have made clear, and we agree, that the concerns around this
issue are strictly humanitarian”, said Mr. Lowcock, adding
that the US also reaffirmed its intention to prioritize
diplomacy in ending the war and dealing with the
humanitarian crisis.

He warned that if
Yemen “tips into a massive famine”, an opportunity
towards lasting peace would be lost.

Preventing
famine

To prevent a further catastrophe, the
Humanitarian Coordinator called for urgent action on five
points, beginning with the protection of civilians.

As
front lines reportedly move closer to civilian areas –
with attacks sparking a dangerous escalation – Mr. Lowcock
worried that “hundreds of thousands of people” may again
be sent “running for their lives at a time when everyone
should be doing everything possible to stop
famine”.

On his second point, humanitarian access,
he reminded that international humanitarian law required
“rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access” and emphasized
that despite many challenges, aid operations are still
delivering.

Turning to funding, his third point, the
Humanitarian chief said that in 2020, aid operation received
half of what it had the previous year, which resulted in
millions of people in need.

“On 1 March, the
Secretary-General will convene a virtual high-level pledging
event for the Yemen crisis”, he said, calling for everyone
to “show they are serious about seizing the opportunity
for peace”.

On the fourth issue, supporting the
economy, he advised, among other things, to bring the
exchange rate down “to more sustainable
levels”.

And on his final point, making progress
towards peace, Mr. Lowcock stressed that “first, the
violence must stop” and called for a mediated nationwide
ceasefire and the resumption of the political
process.

“The only way to end the crisis in Yemen is
to end the war”, concluded the UN Humanitarian
Coordinator.

Situation spiraling
downward

While fresh violence and a worsening
humanitarian situation continues to unfold, Special Envoy
Martin Griffiths said the situation had taken “a sharp
escalatory turn” with Ansar Allah’s most recent
offensive on Marib Governorate.

Reiterating calls
that the attack on Marib must stop, because “it puts
millions of civilians at risk…especially with the fighting
reaching camps for internally displaced persons”, he
upheld that forceful quests for territorial gain threaten
peace prospects as looming famine, fuel shortages and other
grave challenges prevail.

Political
moves

Although the situation on the ground is
deteriorating, Mr. Griffiths welcomed the US’ renewed
focus on the conflict, saying the move offers a new
opportunity to “reopen space for a negotiated solution”
and that revived international momentum is
“indispensable” to finding a peaceful
resolution.

He highlighted elements for a mutually
acceptable end to the war and a path towards peace that
included political participation, accountable governance,
equal citizenship and economic justice.

“The
only way to realize these aspirations…is through a
genuinely inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under
United Nations auspices and supported by the international
community”, the UN envoy spelled out.

Back to
the negotiating table

Emphasizing what is at stake,
Mr. Griffiths said that the military situation is
“extremely tense” and underscored that civilians are
bearing the brunt of “shocking violations of international
humanitarian law”, worrying spikes of violence and
continuing hostilities in Hudaydah and Taïz Governorates,
as well as cross-border attacks.

However, recalling
that the parties had successfully negotiated a large-scale
release of prisoners and detainees in2020, he maintained
that “the negotiating table can produce win-win
results”.

The UN official informed the Council that
negotiations for more releases were underway.

He also
called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all
sick, wounded, elderly and children detainees, as well as
all arbitrarily detained civilians, including women and
journalists”.

“As a mediator, I seek common
grounds for agreements”, he said. “But there is
nothing anybody can do to force the warring parties into
peace unless they choose to put down the guns and talk to
each other. The responsibility to end the war, first and
foremost, lies with the parties to the conflict. I hope
they will not miss this
chance.”

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