As Yemen fighting surges, UN humanitarian arm issues urgent appeal for country’s civilians

A farmer collects food ration for his family. An estimated 12 million Yemenis are food insecure. Photo: WFP

17 April 2015 – The United Nations has launched an urgent appeal for over two hundred million dollars to help Yemen’s civilians with critical aid amid the country’s intensifying conflict, the Organization’s humanitarian wing confirmed today.

“The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world,” said Johannes Van Der Klaauw of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in a press release issued this morning.

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and airstrikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival.”

OCHA’s flash appeal for Yemen calls for $273.7 million in order meet the life-saving and protection needs of some 7.5 million people who are increasingly under threat.

According to the UN’s overview of the situation on the ground, in fact, the fighting in Yemen has steadily escalated in recent weeks, spreading throughout the country and into urban areas and residential neighbourhoods.

Civilian infrastructure has reportedly been destroyed as airstrikes and shelling have hit hospitals, schools, airports and mosques. At the same time, reports of serious human rights violations being committed are also emerging.

In its appeal, the UN office warned that the conflict was also significantly impacting civilians themselves. The latest data point to 731 people killed and 2,754 injured from 19 March to 12 April, including a large number of civilian casualties. Meanwhile, the number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million and at least 150,000 people have been displaced.

Mr. Van Der Klaauw explained that the humanitarian community in Yemen continued to operate and deliver assistance despite the insecurity and logistical challenges. But OCHA has nonetheless noted that the country remains in dire need of medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support.

“To scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources,” Mr. Van Der Klaauw concluded. “I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The mood of concern was equally elevated in Geneva today where the spokespersons of the UN's other relief agencies addressed the press on Yemen's soaring humanitarian crisis.

Adrian Edwards, of the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), told reporters that shelter was emerging as one of the more pressing needs for Yemen's civilians, adding that the number of displaced could be expected to skyrocket from the current 150,000 if the violence continued. Moreover, he said, the current numbers of displaced were in addition to the 300,000 displaced by the previous violence that had afflicted the country, fuelling a steady flow of migrants from Yemen to the Horn of Africa.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Tarik Jašarevic, meanwhile, cautioned that humanitarian actors were encountering difficulties in treating casualties, especially in the country's south where there is a particular shortage of electricity for hospitals. The UN health agency was also calling for an injection of funding as it needs to raise $25.2 million to meet humanitarian health needs in Yemen, Mr. Jašarevic added.

Christophe Boulierac from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on the other hand, warned that the escalating conflict was expected to increase the problems of nutrition for children under five and increase the nutrition vulnerability of children and pregnant and lactating women.

Before the current conflict exploded, Yemen was ranked 50th out of 194 countries in terms of highest under five mortality rate which, he said, added to the burden already facing the country's children.

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