Yemen on the brink of dangerous famine

Sabeer*, 12 years old and his brothers live with their parents in a small hut in Al-Awamer village, in Hajjah governorate. Because of the lack of space, the children are forced to sleep outdoors. Photo: Moayed Al-Shaibani/Oxfam

The crisis in Yemen has reached a truly dangerous level that is on par with the worst atrocities in recent memory.

Since November 6, most ports and airports of Yemen have been closed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which has put millions of people at risk of famine. The impacts are already being felt: Food prices are through the roof with many people unable to purchase even basic staples, and fuel is running low or completely unavailable– hospitals, and pumps that make clean water accessible for millions, have started to shut down, with more to follow in the coming days. Oxfam and others are being forced to suspend activities in certain areas because there is no fuel.

Last week, the UN warned that Yemen would face the largest famine the world has seen for many decades if the blockade is not lifted. Yemen’s food stock source will only suffice for the next two months, while medical supplies are running critically low. The UN reports that more than two and a half years of war have left 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 7 million already on the brink of famine. With more than 900,000 suspected cases of cholera, Yemen’s current outbreak is already the largest and fastest-spreading in recorded history, according to the UN.

This crisis is avoidable, and the US has the power to stop this and save lives, if it uses its influence in the region to pressure the Saudi-led coalition to reopen ports and ceases its sales of weapons that would further fuel the conflict.

"If those with the power to act fail to do so, history will judge them as either responsible or complicit in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people in Yemen,” said Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen. “They need to immediately open borders, and allow the free flow of vital aid, and help secure a ceasefire.”

All of Yemen’s ports must reopen. Millions of people are at risk, and hundreds of thousands of people will die without food, fuel, and medicine.

Stevenson added: “The dearth of fuel already means that the hum of the generators will cease. These are the generators that pump clean water to households, light up schools and keep disease from the hospitals. This fuel is urgently needed to transport what little food remains in Yemen, or food will be stuck in warehouses while innocent people starve nearby. Every day that passes brings the Yemeni people closer to the brink of a historic catastrophe. Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies are committed to support the Yemeni people and will do all we can until our own resources are bled dry by this blockade.” 

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