Starvation ‘death sentence’ looms for eight million people in Yemen

Collapse in funding for relief agencies will result in no food rations, UN warned

The UN Security Council has been warned that eight million Yemenis could lose life-saving food aid if relief agencies continue to be starved of funds at a time the country faces a steep escalation in fighting.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told the council, "We have never before contemplated giving millions of hungry people no food at all. If [funding] gaps aren't addressed, it will simply be a death sentence for people whose coping mechanisms in some cases are completely exhausted and who rely on assistance for their survival."

From the end of January, the World Food Programme (WFP) has reduced rations for eight million of the 13 million people it sustains monthly in Yemen, since donors have provided only 58 per cent of funds for last year and none for 2022. "There is, it seems, no money," Mr Griffiths stated.

Food parcel violence

The WFP’s monthly ration formerly received by one family has to be divided between two, creating disputes and violence over the division of oil, sugar and, critically, the 50kg bag of flour, bread being the staple of every meal.


UN special envoy Hans Grunberg spoke of an "alarming" increase in air raids on residential neighbourhoods in the rebel-controlled capital, Sana'a, and the port city of Hodeidah. He said a Saudi strike on a migrant detention facility which killed 91 in the Houthi homeland "was the worse civilian casualty incident in three years".

The UN reports 650 civilians were killed or wounded in January during air raids, shelling and gunfire following a surge in the battle for oil-rich Marib province, when Saudi- and Emirati-backed militias mounted a joint assault on Houthi rebels. The Houthis responded with drone and missile strikes on Saudi and Emirati targets.

Mr Grunberg said these attacks “indicate how this conflict risks spiralling out of control unless serious efforts are urgently made by the Yemeni parties, the region and international community to end the conflict”.

Saudi blockade

He has been unable to relaunch negotiations due to the Saudi refusal to lift its blockade of Houthi-held sea ports and the Sana’a airport as a condition for a ceasefire and talks to halt the war launched in 2015 by the Saudis and Emiratis to restore ousted president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Humanitarian agencies have criticised Saudi and Emirati pressure on US president Joe Biden to reclassify the Houthis as "foreign terrorists" – as was done by the Trump administration. They say such a move would make it difficult to deliver essential supplies to the rebel-held north, where the majority of 30 million Yemenis reside.

The UN estimates 377,000 have died and four million have been displaced due to the war.

The UN has finally received Houthi permission to transfer to a sound vessel one million barrels of crude oil at risk of spilling into the Red Sea from a deteriorating storage ship that has been moored off the coast since the 1980s.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times