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Millions Of Lives At Risk In Yemen, Aid Group Official Says


The secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council is calling attention to Yemen. Jan Egeland has just spent five days there. Millions of lives are at risk, he says, because of war, because of food shortages and limited medical care. We reached him in Amman, Jordan, just hours after he had left Yemen.

JAN EGELAND: I was shocked, frankly, with what I saw in Yemen. I was both in the north and the south of the country. I was on the countryside. It is a large civilian population on the brink of famine that is wholly man-made. And it is totally preventable.

The war can end. It is senseless. It needs, you know, diplomatic pressure from the outside. Secondly, we need to double the injection of relief, cash and food into the pipeline. And thirdly, we need an end to this strangulation of economic life in Yemen.

MARTIN: Well, I mean, you say big population centers are on the brink of famine. Can you recount the story of someone who illustrates that pain?

EGELAND: So I came to a - what I had hoped to see was a functioning feeding station for mothers with children that are nearly dying from starvation. It was nearly empty of children. Two children was smiling there because they had been saved.

There was no one else in the place because the doctors and the nurses had left this feeding station because they hadn't been paid for eight months, and they were themselves struggling to survive. It's an epic sort of example of a place with many, many, many millions of civilians in total meltdown.

MARTIN: Humanitarian aid has been funneled into Yemen for years now. Is it just insufficient, or is it - is that food aid in particular not getting to where it needs to go?

EGELAND: Well, it is insufficient. Seven million of the 17 million in need absolutely must be fed because they're at the brink of famine. The World Food Program and the rest of us could only afford to feed 3 million of the 7 this month. And the pipeline will break in July unless there is a massive injection of cash and food now.

MARTIN: The civil war in Yemen has been going on for two years. And the assaults go on. There's talk - reports of an imminent assault on a key port city by Saudi-led coalition forces that have been leading these airstrikes. How do you navigate Yemen's immense need without having the support of the warring parties there?

EGELAND: Well, we cannot meet the needs if there is not an end to the conflict and an end to the restrictions by air, land and sea to imports into Yemen. So, indeed, the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing in Yemen needs to agree to a cease-fire, so must the regime in Sana'a and those who back them.

And the U.S. and the U.K. and the other Western powers that supports the Saudi-led coalition must now show more leadership for peace, unless we will all be facing with biblical famine towards the end of this year. I hope - I believe that Washington and London will take initiatives for new peace talks.

MARTIN: Mr. Egeland, thank you so much for your time.

EGELAND: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Jan Egeland is the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. We spoke with him via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.