1 March 2021

As Famine Looms in Yemen, Secretary-General Calls on Donors to Fund $3.85 Billion Humanitarian Appeal, Describes Recent Aid Decline as ‘Death Sentence’

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the high-level pledging event for Yemen, today:

I thank the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland for co-hosting this conference, and the representatives of Governments and organizations taking part, for your solidarity with the people of Yemen.

Today, famine is bearing down on Yemen.  The race is on if we want to prevent hunger and starvation from taking millions of lives.

It is impossible to overstate the severity of the suffering in Yemen.  More than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance and protection, with women and children among the hardest hit.  That means two out of every three people in Yemen need food aid, health care or other lifesaving support from humanitarian organizations.

More than 16 million people are expected to go hungry this year.  Nearly 50,000 Yemenis are already starving to death in famine-like conditions.  The worst hunger is in areas affected by the conflict.  Four million people across Yemen have been forced from their homes.  The recent Houthi offensive in Marib threatens to displace hundreds of thousands more.

Last year, the conflict in Yemen killed or injured more than 2,000 civilians.  It has devastated the economy and crushed public services.  Barely half of Yemen’s health facilities are fully functional.  The COVID-19 pandemic is one more deadly threat in a country facing such severe health challenges.

For most people, life in Yemen is now unbearable.  Childhood in Yemen is a special kind of hell.  Yemeni children are starving.  This year, nearly half of all children under 5 in Yemen are set to suffer from acute malnutrition.  The symptoms include wasting, depression and tiredness.

Four hundred thousand of those children face severe acute malnutrition and could die without urgent treatment.  Starving children are even more vulnerable to preventable diseases like cholera, diphtheria and measles.  Every 10 minutes, a child dies a needless death from diseases like those ones in Yemen.

And every day, Yemeni children are killed or maimed in the conflict.  Sick and injured children are turned away by overwhelmed health facilities that do not have drugs or equipment to treat them.

This war is swallowing a whole generation of Yemenis.  It has to stop.  It’s been clear for years that there is no military solution in Yemen.  The only path to peace is through an immediate, nationwide ceasefire and a set of confidence-building measures, followed by an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under United Nations auspices, and supported by the international community.

The people of Yemen have articulated what they want:  lifesaving support from the world, peaceful political participation, accountable governance, equal citizenship and economic justice.  I urge all parties to work with my Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  All our actions must be driven by this.

This is the fifth time we have convened a high-level pledging event to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.  The bitter truth is that we will convene a sixth event next year unless the war ends.

We must create and seize every opportunity to save lives, stave off a mass famine and forge a path to peace.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen has never been worse.  Yet last year, humanitarian funding fell.  We received $1.9 billion — just half of what we needed, and half of what we received the year before.  At the same time, the Yemeni currency collapsed, and remittances from Yemenis overseas dried up as the pandemic hit economies everywhere.

The impact has been brutal.  Humanitarian organizations providing food, water and health care have reduced or even closed their programmes.  Families have nothing to fall back on.

Two years ago, in 2018, thanks to the generosity of donors, including Yemen’s neighbours, humanitarian agencies helped to prevent the famine that then threatened Yemen.  Today, reducing aid is a death sentence for entire families.

With the war raging, Yemen’s children are paying the price.  And we know from studying the impact of conflict that those children will continue to pay a high price, long after the guns fall silent.

Children who suffer from stunting in their childhood may never fulfil their physical and mental potential.  Economic damage, divisions and grievances can last decades, blighting entire regions.  Communities ravaged by conflict bear emotional scars for generations.

We must end this senseless conflict now, and start dealing with its enormous consequences immediately.  This is not the moment to step back from Yemen.  We must equal and surpass the levels of funding we had in 2018 (and 2019).

This year, we need $3.85 billion to support 16 million Yemenis on the brink of catastrophe.  I implore all donors to fund our appeal generously to stop famine engulfing the country.  Every dollar counts.

The funding you provide — through the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, the Central Emergency Response Fund or the Country-Based Pooled Fund — will make an enormous and concrete difference.  In many cases, the difference between life and death.

The United Nations family and our partners across Yemen are ready to scale up aid operations.  Delivering aid in Yemen is challenging, but humanitarian workers are up to the challenge.

Throughout last year, United Nations agencies and our partners helped more than 10 million people each month, working in every one of Yemen’s 333 districts.

I urge all parties once again to heed the requirements of international humanitarian law to facilitate rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access.

The assistance you pledge today will not only prevent the spread of famine and save lives.  It will help create the conditions for lasting peace.

For information media. Not an official record.