Yemen faces growing hunger and economic collapse amid escalating war, UN says

Escalating military action in Yemen has displaced more than 15,000 people over the past month, killed or injured more than 350 civilians in December and left the Arab world’s poorest country facing growing hunger and a economic collapse with no political solution in sight, senior UN officials said on Wednesday. .

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg told the UN Security Council that in the seventh year of conflict, the warring parties appear to be seeking military victory. But, he said, “there is no durable long-term solution to be found on the battlefield” and both sides must talk even if they are not ready to lay down their arms.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when Houthi rebels took the capital Sanaa and much of the north of the country, forcing the government to flee south and then into Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the United States, went to war months later seeking to restore the government to power, but the alliance, like the Houthis and other factions combatant in Yemen, has been accused of perpetrating serious violations by rights groups. .

The conflict has since escalated into a regional proxy war that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and combatants. The war has also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions to suffer food and medical shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.

“We seem to be entering a cycle of escalation once again with foreseeable devastating implications for civilians and for the immediate prospects for peace,” Grundberg told the council.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels continue their assault on the key town of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen, and fighting resumes in the southern province of Shabwa where the internationally recognized Yemeni government has taken over three districts from Houthis, he said. .

Elsewhere, airstrikes have increased not only on the front lines but also in Sanaa, including residential areas, and in the city of Taiz, he said, while fighting continues in southern Hodeidah, where the main port of the country is located, and that the attacks have multiplied. to neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Grundberg expressed concern that battles could escalate on other fronts, pointing to the recent seizure by the Houthis of a vessel flying the flag of the United Arab Emirates. He also called “worrying” accusations that the mainly Houthi-controlled ports of Hodeidah – a lifeline for delivering aid, food and fuel to the country – are militarised.

Ramesh Rajasingham, the UN’s deputy humanitarian affairs chief, said heavy fighting continued along dozens of front lines and that as of December 358 civilians were reported killed or injured, “a figure that is on par with highest in three years.

He said aid agencies helped 11 million Yemenis every month in 2021, but the UN World Food Program was forced to cut food aid to 8 million people due to a lack of food. funding. Other programs providing water, protection of civilians and reproductive health services have also been forced to scale back or close in recent weeks due to a lack of funds, he said.

Last year’s UN appeal for around $3.9 billion to help 16 million people was only 58% funded – the lowest level since 2015 – and Rajasingham said the he UN expects this year’s aid operation to require about as much money. He urged donors to maintain and if possible increase their support this year.

Rajaingham also called on the Houthis in particular to improve access for humanitarian personnel and to end attempts to interfere in their work. Despite assurances from the Houthis, he said, they had still not allowed access to two UN staff members detained in Sanaa in November.

While humanitarian aid is essential, Rajasingham pointed out that the main drivers of people’s needs are economic collapse accelerated by conflict.

He said humanitarian needs could be reduced by a resumption of foreign exchange injections through the Central Bank as well as policy decisions to lift import restrictions and use import revenues to pay for basic services provided by public institutions.

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