U.N. Says Yemen Is On The Brink Of A Massive Famine As War Gets Worse

Oct 24, 2018
Originally published on October 24, 2018 9:35 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There are reports of another deadly air strike near a port city in Yemen. A Saudi Arabian-led coalition has been pounding the area in a fight against Iranian-backed rebels. The civilian toll is mounting. U.N. aid officials have another big fear. They warn that half the country is on the brink of famine. NPR's Michele Kelemen has that story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.N.'s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has been trying to raise the alarm about Yemen for weeks now. In September, he warned that aid workers are losing the fight against famine. This week, he told the Security Council the situation is getting worse.

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MARK LOWCOCK: There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great, big famine engulfing Yemen - much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives.

KELEMEN: U.N. officials are particularly worried about the fighting at the port of Hodeidah and the collapse of Yemen's currency. They're urging Saudi Arabia to help stabilize the riyal so that Yemenis who do have money can afford to buy food in the markets. And the U.N. wants the Saudis and their coalition partners to avoid civilian targets as they fight for control of the port used by aid workers. Given the fighting there and around the country, it's hard for aid groups to get a full picture of the needs of the country. And there are some doubts in Washington about the U.N. figures. But the scenes are grim, says Christy Delafield of Mercy Corps, who was in Yemen last month.

CHRISTY DELAFIELD: I visited malnutrition screening clinics that Mercy Corps works in in both the north and the south and sat with mother after mother holding her child, her infant or her young child on her lap telling me I don't know where I'm going to get food to feed my child.

KELEMEN: The U.N. now estimates that 14 million people - that is half Yemen's population - are facing pre-famine conditions. Delafield says she's seen nothing like it.

DELAFIELD: This is a manmade crisis. There are things that we can do to help people there, and we need to be doing them.

KELEMEN: The U.S. is a major donor to the humanitarian response. It also provides logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently gave the green light for that to continue despite deadly airstrikes on civilian targets. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, wants Congress to cut off that military aid, writing in a recent op-ed that the war has killed thousands of civilians, led to a massive humanitarian crisis and has a, quote, "made in America label on it." Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.