Risk of Large-Scale Famine in Yemen is High as Aid Agencies Run Out of Money, U.N. Warns

As Yemen is faced with a collapsing economy and a worsening humanitarian crisis, the country is also at risk of seeing "large-scale" famine as aid agencies run out of money, the Associated Press reported.

Ramesh Rajasingham, the deputy humanitarian chief for the United Nations, spoke about the grim situation on Thursday during a briefing to the U.N. Security Council.

Rajasingham said that more than 20 million people in Yemen, or two-thirds of its population, require humanitarian assistance. But aid agencies, he said, "are, once again, starting to run out of money."

The agencies are currently aiding about 13 million people in Yemen, roughly 3 million more than a few months earlier, which Rajasingham said likely "pushed back the immediate risk of large-scale famine." He warned that the agencies don't have sufficient funds to keep providing for those in need at this scale, and up to 4 million people could have their aid reduced "in the coming weeks and months."

"We are calling on everyone to do everything possible to sustain the momentum we've built over the last several months and keep famine at bay," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Yemen Faces Famine Crisis
Yemen, a nation plagued by a collapsing economy and worsening humanitarian crisis, is at risk of seeing large-scale famine as aid agencies run out of money. Above, security personnel stand amid the wreckage of a damaged vehicle at the site of a deadly car bomb attack that targeted two senior government officials, who survived, security officials said, in the port city of Aden, Yemen, on October 10, 2021. Wael Qubady/AP Photo

Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital of Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March of 2015, backed by the United States, to try restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power, and threw its support behind his government. Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated largely into a stalemate and spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The U.S. has since suspended its direct involvement in the conflict.

In early 2020, the Houthis launched an offensive in the mostly government-held Marib province which has cost the lives of thousands of young people and left thousands of displaced civilians living in constant fear of violence and having to move again.

On Thursday, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials said that fighting over Marib in the last 24 hours killed at least 140 fighters on both sides. The clashes were taking place in the districts of Abdiya and al-Jubah, they said.

At the briefing to the Security Council, Rajasingham said the Houthis "intensified their brutal offensive in Marib, taking more territory there and in neighboring parts of the southern province of Shabwa.

He also pointed to clashes between rival armed groups earlier this month in the southern city of Aden—where Hadi's government set up headquarters after the Houthis pushed them out of Sanaa and the north—and continuing fighting, shelling and air strikes in northwest Saada and western Hajjah and Hodeida provinces "and along nearly 50 other front lines."

In September, 235 civilians were killed or injured, the second-highest figure in two years, and fighting in Marib is taking "a particularly heavy civilian toll," with almost 10,000 people displaced in September, the second-highest figure in two years, Rajasingham said.

The new U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who took up the post last month, told the council that he has held meetings with government and Houthi officials, as well as key regional and international officials focused on how to move toward a political solution to restore peace in Yemen.

"The gap in trust between warring parties is wide and growing," he said in a virtual briefing.

Grundberg said he made clear that while progress should be made on urgent humanitarian and economic issues, urgent political talks without preconditions are essential to negotiate a settlement of the conflict.

"Let us not fool ourselves, this will be a laborious and complicated task that will take time but it must take place," Grundberg said. "The past weeks have illustrated the tension between the pace of the war and the economic collapse on one hand, and the time needed to devise and consult on a feasible way forward, on the other."

Rajasingham reiterated that Yemen's economic collapse "is driving most needs in the country—including the risk of famine."

Yemen imports almost everything, he said, and the Yemeni rial is trading around 1,270 rials to the dollar in Aden, nearly six times higher than before the war, and fewer goods are reaching the country's ports. Commercial food imports to the key ports of Hodeida and Saleef were 8 percent below last year's average in September, and "fuel imports were an alarming 64 percent lower," he said.

He urged immediate steps to stem the country's economic collapse including injections of foreign exchange through the Central Bank which would quickly bring down prices, as they did in the past, as well as fully opening all ports, lifting import restrictions at Hodeida and Saleef, and paying civil servant salaries.

Rajasingham Briefing on Yemen Crisis
United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Chief Ramesh Rajasingham warned Thursday that Yemen could see “large-scale” famine as aid agencies run out of money. Above, Rajasingham speaks during a press conference at a UN transshipment hub at Cilvegozu in Reyhanli near the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay on November 28, 2016. Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images