Jan Egeland speaks to people in Jabal Yazzid district. Photo: NRC

A man-made famine on our watch

Published 03. May 2017
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland on the humanitarian situation in Yemen:

“I am shocked to my bones by what I have seen and heard here in war- and hunger- stricken Yemen. The world is letting some 7 million men, women and children slowly but surely, be engulfed by unprecedented famine. It is not a drought that is at fault. This preventable catastrophe is man-made from A to Z,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) after a five day visit to Sana’a, Aden and Amran in Yemen.

This is a gigantic failure of international diplomacy. Men with guns and power inside Yemen as well as in regional and international capitals are undermining every effort to avert an entirely preventable famine, as well as the collapse of health and education services for millions of children.

“Nowhere on earth are as many lives at risk. We are not even sure that the main humanitarian lifeline through the port of Hudaydah will be kept open. The Saudi-led, Western-backed, military coalition has threatened to attack the port, which would likely destroy it and cut supplies to millions of hungry civilians. The severe access restrictions to Yemen by air, sea and land has caused economic collapse in a country of 27 million people,” said Egeland.

Jan Egeland visiting Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sanaa. Due to the humanitarian situation the hospital is facing an increase in low weight new born. Photo:NRC

NRC’s appeal to the parties of the conflict in Aden and Sana’a, as well as to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to Iran and to Western powers like the USA and UK, is the following:

 “Do not bring further fuel to this fire. We need you to agree to a ceasefire, serious peace talks and urgent relief for 19 million Yemenis in need. This month, humanitarian efforts led by the World Food Programme, can only afford to feed 3 of the 7 million Yemenis on the brink of famine. The heroic relief workers in Yemen are acutely underfunded, and local military and political authorities are preventing access to many communities in need,” said Egeland.

Commercial food imports have reached an all-time low, driving the price of basic commodities to rise on average by a third. Sixty per cent of people are food insecure and nearly 7 million do not know where their next meal will come from.

This makes Yemen the largest food security crisis in the world.

An aid worker told me the fear and desperation among civilians is now so great that mothers with acutely undernourished children grab their kids from hospital beds when they hear the war planes flying over.

During his visit, Egeland met with families affected by the conflict, humanitarian partners and authorities. “I met teachers, health workers, engineers and other civil servants that have not been paid for 8 months and who now struggle to survive,” he said. “The development agencies must be able to keep the public sector functioning to prevent an explosion of epidemic diseases and illiteracy. This strangulation of an entire civilian population on both sides of the frontline cannot be allowed to continue.”