ADEN/SANA'A - The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, who has been visiting Yemen, urged the international community to help prevent a famine by providing resources to meet the immediate needs of the severely food insecure.
Cousin also pleaded with the warring parties and authorities in Aden and Sana'a for access to reach hungry people who will die if they do not receive food and nutrition support.
"Humanitarians and aid workers are making a difference in Yemen as they have prevented Yemen from slipping into a famine until now," said Cousin. "The challenge is that there are areas that are inaccessible where people are severely food insecure. These are the pockets that are at serious risk of people dying of hunger."
Cousin, who went to Aden and Sana'a on a three-day trip, visited nutrition centres, health facilities and food distributions, where she met families struggling to feed their children.
Yemen, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria are each on the brink of a famine. Last month, famine was declared to be affecting parts of Unity State in South Sudan.
Cousin described the situation in Yemen as heartbreaking.
"The numbers tell us the story, with over 17 million people who are food insecure and approximately seven million people severely food insecure," said Cousin. "It is a race against time, and if we do not scale up assistance to reach those who are severely food insecure, we will see famine-like conditions in some of the worst-hit and inaccessible areas which means that people will die."
Despite considerable access challenges, WFP reached a record number of 4.9 million food insecure people in Yemen in February. Because of inadequate funding WFP reduced the food ration to stretch assistance to more people.
Plans are in place to further scale up to reach all the seven million people who cannot survive without external food assistance but urgently needed resources -- and access by sea and land - is required to reach those people.
One of the women who receives food vouchers from WFP told Cousin, during her visit to a food distribution centre: "We survive now on the WFP voucher and if we do not receive it then we have nothing to put on the table and we will go hungry." The single woman lives with her father, who had previously received cash assistance as part of the government social safety net programmes, though this support had stopped since last September.
As the poorest country in the region, Yemen has suffered from decades of chronic food insecurity, and the situation has deteriorated rapidly in the last two years due to the ongoing conflict.
"The root cause of the situation in Yemen is a conflict that should end. We cannot address the food security risks in the country efficiently without peace and security," Cousin added. "We need peace in Yemen."
WFP appealed for US$950 million to support over seven million people in Yemen this year. Of this, WFP urgently requires nearly US$460 million from March to August to fully cover the food needs of the people it hopes to reach.
Source: World Food Programme