LONDON (AlertNet) - Yemen urgently needs emergency aid to help millions caught up in a deepening hunger crisis, international aid agencies said in a joint statement to coincide with a donor conference in New York on Thursday.
The crisis affects 10 million people - nearly half the population - including about 1 million children who are at risk of severe malnutrition, the statement said.
“They can’t afford food or find work. Parents are pulling children out of school to beg, marrying their daughters early and selling what little they have just to get food today,” Colette Fearon, country director of Oxfam in Yemen, said in the statement.
“They know this will make life harder in the future, but have little choice,” she added.
In August this year, the United Nations warned that 5.1 million people needed immediate help, including 610,000 people affected by conflict. In some areas hunger had reached emergency levels, it said.
President Abdrabu Mansour Hadi urged governments at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26 to give more to the United Nations’ $585 million humanitarian appeal, which is only half-funded.
The shortfall could be closed with a fraction – just over 4 percent - of the $6.4 billion promised at a donor conference in Riyadh earlier this month, the aid agencies’ joint statement said. Most of the money pledged by donors is for improving the country’s flagging economy and infrastructure, as well as meeting the country’s humanitarian needs.
Aid agencies urged donors not to repeat the mistakes of the past where funds were pledged to Yemen, but did not materialise. In 2006, donors promised $5 billion to Yemen, but by early 2010 less than 10 percent had been disbursed, they said.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis worsened in 2011 when mass protests demanding the end of the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, combined with growing violence by Islamist and tribal militants, meant the government lost control of whole chunks of the country.
Tens of thousands of people were displaced in southern, central and northern areas, and public services in much of the country ground to a halt.
The unrest also created severe fuel shortages and dramatically pushed up the price of food, in a country which imports 90 percent of its food.
Despite the formation of a unity government in November 2011, conflict has continued, and the humanitarian situation has worsened especially among rural communities and those displaced by the fighting.
Access to clean water has “decreased significantly” in the first half of 2012, causing new outbreaks of fatal diseases including measles, dengue fever and acute watery diarrhoea, and a risk of re-emergence of polio, the United Nations said in August.
An estimated 300,000 children cannot go to school because of conflict.
The hunger crisis threatens to derail attempts to improve Yemen’s stability, the aid agencies said. Longer-term funding is essential, but it will not help Yemen achieve development and stability unless matched with immediate funding to tackle the “staggering” humanitarian crisis, they said.
However, ending Yemen’s cycle of hunger is crucial too.
“… we urge (donors) not only to meet pressing needs on the ground, but to ensure that there is a plan in place to address the root causes of the crisis,” Mercy Corps Yemen country director, Mohammed Qazilbash, said.
The joint statement was written by Oxfam, Mercy Corps, Islamic Relief, CARE International, Merlin, International Medical Corps, Yemen Relief and Development Forum, and the Humanitarian Forum.