Deadly Yemen famine could strike at any time, warns UN boss

Humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock horror a huge loss of life as fighting continues

A famine inflicting” big loss of life” could strike at any time in Yemen, as meat costs surge and the duel rages over the country’s main port, the UN humanitarian bos, Mark Lowcock, has warned.

Lowcock said that by the time an imminent famine is proven, it would be too late to stop it. Accelerating economic breakdown has caused prices of staples to increase by 30% at a time many millions of Yemenis were already acquiring it is very difficult to feed their families.

Meanwhile, fighting over the port of Hodeidah has limited its capacity, shut down its grain mills and shut the main road inland towards the capital, Sana’a, threatening a lifeline that has allowed aid agencies to reach 8 million people and stave off famine even further this year.

” One of the things about what takes place in famines is there’s a sudden breakdown of which you get no placard ,” Lowcock, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, told the Guardian on the eve of a UN nations general assembly meeting on Monday to discuss the Yemeni crisis.” When the collapse happens, it’s too late to is everything. There’s a huge loss of life very, very quickly. So that’s the questions we’re flagging .”

The offensive on Hodeidah is being led on the ground by forces from the United Arab Emirates( UAE) with Saudi air support. They are opposing Houthi rebels who have held the port since 2014. The UAE interrupted the attack at the opening up of July to allow time for peace talks, but the negotiations stalled and the offensive restarted on 7 September.

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Yemeni children look at corn cobs for sale at a market in Sana’a but prices have risen amid supplying issues. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/ EPA

Before the most recent offensive, Hodeidah’s population was about 600,000, but Lowcock said it was unclear how many were still in the heavily bombed port city. UN agencies recently delivered food aid for 42,000 families in danger, which Lowcock approximated represented about a quarter of a million people.

The veteran British aid official said he thought it unlikely there would be a direct assault on the urban centres but is worried about the impact of the battle on supplies reaching farther inland, in a country that is 90% is highly dependent on food imports.

Fewer ships are docking at Hodeidah, its grain mills have been cut off behind the altering front lines and the road north to Sana’a is now contested and mined, shutting it to food deliveries. Aid convoys now have to follow a more circuitous route along a much poorer road with wrecked bridges and craters from heavy bombing.

At the same time the devaluation of the rial is pushing food further out of the reach of ordinary people.

” And if you were use all your extremely, very meagre income to buy food and you are able to buy 30% less, you know it’s a massive strike ,” Lowcock said.

He denied a report on the Irin news organisation that the UN had tried and failed to evacuate 5,000 civilians from Hodeidah in April this year.

” The theory that you would be engaged in an evacuation of Hodeidah city … it’s not the kind of thing that we would propose ,” Lowcock said.

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Mark Lowcock warned that once the famine was supported it would be too late to stop it. Photo: Denis Balibouse/ Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition has been widely criticised for the persistently high civilian death toll from its aerial bombing campaign, and for the fact that its own investigative mechanism exonerated the use of force in almost every incident.

However, Lowcock noted that the Saudis had admitted that the 9 August bombing of a bus full of children was ” unjustified” and promised to hold accountable those who contributed to the error. He added that the coalition had largely managed to avoid making aid operations.

” There to be basically a good system[ to protect] the aid functioning from members of the military activities and we wouldn’t be able to run the enormous operation we lead were it not for the fact that we are confident that our sites, our accommodation, all our escorts, all our immunisation activities, all our additional activities, will be protected and respected ,” Lowcock said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have offered almost half the$ 2bn( PS1. 5bn) pledged for humanitarian relief in Yemen. Lowcock insisted, nonetheless, their role as major donors did not stop him from speaking out about the implications of their military operations on the Yemeni population.

He said:” The record speaks for itself on what we’ve done and I’ve made a string of statements on abuses and atrocities, sent at all sides .”

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ world/ 2018/ sep/ 24/ deadly-yemen-famine-could-strike-at-any-time-warns-un-boss

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