The top UN humanitarian official in Yemen says a large-scale famine was averted in the country earlier this year, but the situation remains critical and there is a danger of further cuts to many essential programmes.
“It’s not enough that we’ve just got a push, we need a constant stream of support coming next week into 2022,” David Gresley told VOA. “And until this crisis is resolved politically, this situation will remain on the ground.”
WATCH: David Gresley of the United Nations speaks with VOA
A seven-year war between the Saudi-backed government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has pushed the Middle East’s poorest country to the brink.
UN efforts to broker a nationwide ceasefire, reopen Sanaa airport, ease restrictions on the flow of fuel and other imports through Hodeidah port, and renegotiate direct talks have been unsuccessful.
More than 20 million Yemenis out of a population of about 30 million are in need of humanitarian aid. The World Food Program says 16 million of them are “heading towards starvation” due to a combination of conflict and a severe economic crisis.
The situation in children is particularly dire: the United Nations says one child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, including malnutrition and vaccine-preventable diseases.
The United Nations has appealed for about $4 billion to meet the needs by December. Gresley said he had received about $2.6 billion in cash and mortgages, leaving uncertainty over the future of some aid.
In March, there was a severe shortage of humanitarian funding for Yemen, causing the WFP to halve rations for those already in dire need. An injection of cash from major donors including the United States, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia helped him restore full rations, but Gresley said that without continued funding, his “biggest fear” would be it again. could.
WFP’s executive director, David Beasley, warned last week that without more money, his agency could have to cut rations to 3.2 million people by October, and that number could rise to 5 million by December.
While funding for food and nutrition programs is rising, Gresley said other essential sectors, including health, water and sanitation, are down 80-85%.
Gresley, who took his post in March, says food and other goods are available in most of Yemen’s urban markets, but prices are rising due to extreme inflation, unemployment, exhausted savings, and civil servants not being paid, People simply do not have money to buy things.
“It’s an affordability crisis,” he said.
“So we need to find a complementary strategy that not only directly addresses humanitarian aid to those in need, but also an economic one that takes a look at what can happen in the context of conflict – what Maybe, at least partly, to help revive the economy,” he said.
Yemen’s already-stretched health care system is also facing a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
While confirmed cases have been fewer than in other countries – just over 9,000 according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center – the high proportion of deaths – have been more than 1,700.
Gresley said vaccination has also started very slowly and it will take years to get vaccinated across the country.
“The bigger issue is probably twofold: getting enough vaccine in a country — we’re not getting anywhere enough for the population, maybe between 1 and 2 percent,” he said. “So that by itself isn’t going to make a big difference.”
The vaccine alliance, COVAX, has allocated about 3 million doses for Yemen. So far only 868,000 have been shipped.
“Secondly, there is a lot of hesitation in the south and the denial of the reality of COVID-19 and the need for vaccination by the authorities in the north,” he noted, referring to the various factions in control of Yemen’s territory.
Earlier this week, Gresley met with USAID officials in Washington, where they pressed for continued humanitarian aid and support for economic initiatives next year.
The United States last week pledged an additional $290 million to humanitarian efforts in Yemen at a donors’ conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. It has provided nearly $806 million in humanitarian aid since last October.