UN flags famine alarm signals in Yemen

A woman holds a malnourished toddler at Al-Sabeen hospital in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on November 23, 2019: a senior UN official has warned of a renewed threat of famine (AFP Photo/Mohammed HUWAIS)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - A senior UN official warned Thursday that certain key factors that threatened to trigger famine last year in Yemen were once again looming large, including a plunge in the value of the national currency.

"With a rapidly depreciating rial and disrupted salary payments, we are again seeing some of the key conditions that brought Yemen to the brink of famine a year ago," Ramesh Rajasingham, who coordinates humanitarian aid in the war-torn country, told the UN Security Council.

"We must not let that happen again," he said during a video conference.

"The World Food Programme and its partners are providing food assistance to more than 12 million people every month across the country," he said.

"With support from humanitarian agencies, seven million people are able to access clean drinking water. Some 1.2 million medical consultations take place every month, and more than 2,000 health facilities are receiving support," he added.

He said that in 2020, Yemen "will remain the world's largest humanitarian crisis ... Altogether, we aim to assist 15.6 million people this year. That's about half the population."

The UN official also denounced obstruction of aid deliveries, citing bureaucratic hurdles, harassment of aid workers and violence against humanitarian agencies. "Access constraints are affecting 6.7 million people who need assistance across the country. This figure has never been so high," he said.

In the north of the country, where Huthi rebels are in control, Rajasingham said that "serious problems persist."

"Too many staff are harassed and threatened. Others are arbitrarily detained or unable to move freely, sometimes for extended periods. Humanitarian premises have been forcibly entered. Missions continue to be delayed or cancelled, which means people don't receive the help they need on time."

Since 2015, the conflict between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-backed Huthi rebels has killed tens of thousands of people in Yemen, most of them civilians, according to various aid groups.