UN Raises Alarm as War, Famine, Cholera Push Yemen toward ‘Total Collapse’

Cholera-infected Yemeni women receive treatment amid the cholera outbreak in Sanaa, Yemen, 28 May 2017. Photo: Yahya Arhab/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Yemen is on the brink of complete disaster due to its civil war, famine, and cholera epidemic, according to the UN’s top relief official.
  • International community has failed to act efficiently enough to prevent the crisis, he has argued.
  • Time is running out as Yemenis face the triple threat of war, famine, and disease, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has told the UN Security Council.
  • He has called for more relief funding, and pressure on the warring parties in Yemen to guarantee humanitarian access.
  • Adversaries in the Yemeni Civil War are unwilling to even discuss the conditions for compromises, the UN Envoy for Yemen has told the Security Council in another chilling account of the situation on the ground.

War-torn, famine-stricken, and cholera-hit Yemen is facing a “total social, economic and institutional collapse”, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien has told the UN Security Council.

The all-out humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by the ongoing civil war has been deteriorating rapidly as a result of what is likely to become a full-blown epidemic of cholera, with over 1,000 new cases being registered every day.

Yemen’s cholera death toll has now climbed to 500, while some 60,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported since April.

Cholera is a bacterial infection contracted through ingesting contaminated food or water, which in severe cases can be fatal within hours if not treated with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

In the past two years, Yemen, which was already the poorest country in the Middle East, has been engulfed in a civil war with international involvement, with a coalition led by Saudi Arabia supporting the Yemeni government, which fights the antigovernment Shiite Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

At least 7,800 people – mostly civilians – have been killed, and 44,000 others have been injured in the Yemeni Civil War since March 2015, UN figures show.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at present Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world with an alarming 18.8 million people out of Yemen’s total population of 26 million in need of humanitarian and protection help, including 10.3 million who require immediate assistance to survive.

Earlier this year, the UN warned that Yemen, together with parts of Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan, is facing a devastating famine crisis, resulting from ongoing armed conflicts.

‘Brink of Complete Disaster’

Yemen is headed towards a “total social, economic and institutional collapse”, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

“In complete candor, I return here to report the situation on the ground has continued to spiral downwards towards total social, economic and institutional collapse,“ O’Brien admitted.

He cited the “inability or indifference” of the international community, alongside the domestic reasons for the emerging catastrophe in Yemen.

“The people of Yemen are being subjected to deprivation, disease and death as the world watches. Crisis is not coming, it is not looming, it is here today – on our watch,” he warned.

“Time is running out. The Yemeni people face a ‘triple threat’ of armed conflict, famine, and deadly disease that has already killed, injured, displaced or otherwise affected millions and it will spare no one if it continues unchecked,“ the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator emphasized.

A conflict-affected Yemeni child stands nearby her family’s food ration provided by a local charity in Sanaa, Yemen, 25 May 2017. Photo: Yahya Arhab/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

“The cruel irony, as I said at the beginning, is that these threats are man-made and could easily have been prevented,” he argued, urging the international community to address the threats and “bring Yemen and her people on all sides of the fighting lines back from the brink of complete disaster.“

In his words, the UN should guarantee that all parties in the Yemeni Civil War, i.e. the recognized government and the Shia Houthi rebels, adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law and keep Yemen‘s ports and land routes open for humanitarian traffic.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs reminded that on April 25, the UN Secretary-General and the Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Switzerland co-hosted a High-Level Pledging Conference for Yemen.

“The Conference generated USD 1.1 billion in very generous pledges. We express gratitude to all those donors who have paid their pledges in full; and encourage others to do the same,“ O’Brien said.

He explained that 56% (USD 612 million) of the pledges had been paid both within and outside the humanitarian response plan which meant that the overall humanitarian strategy and plan was only 24% funded (USD 489 million) of the USD 2.1 billion required.

“I strongly urge that funding is provided in support of the humanitarian strategy and plan as it is the most effective, neutral and impartial way to reach those most in need. With escalating needs, we will need more resources,“ the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator warned.

‘On Deaf Years’

The UN Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who had just returned from talks in the Arab country, also addressed the UN Security Council with grave news.

“The call for peace… is still falling on deaf ears,“ he said, stressing that neither side in the Yemeni Civil War is willing to compromise.

“The reluctance of the key parties to embrace the concessions needed for peace, or even discuss them, remains extremely troubling. Yemenis are paying a price for their needless delay,“ the UN Envoy added.

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