Yemen: amid food crisis, UN expert warns of deliberate starvation of civilians

WFP distributes food in Madinat Al Shaab district Yemen, in August 2015. Since April 2015, WFP has reached more than 2 million conflict-affected and severely food insecure people in thirteen of Yemen’s governorates. Photo: WFP/Ammar Bamatraf

WFP distributes food in Madinat Al Shaab district Yemen, in August 2015. Since April 2015, WFP has reached more than 2 million conflict-affected and severely food insecure people in thirteen of Yemen’s governorates. Photo: WFP/Ammar Bamatraf

11 August 2015

As Yemen plunges deeper into conflict, the country now finds itself in the midst of a major food crisis, a United Nations expert said today as she expressed her deep concern over possibly deliberate starvation of civilians.

“As the conflict continues to escalate, over 12.9 million people in Yemen are now surviving without adequate access to basic food supplies, including six million who are deemed severely food insecure,” warned Hilal Elver, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in a press release issued earlier this morning.

The situation facing children in the country is particularly alarming, she stressed, with reports suggesting that 850,000 of them face acute malnutrition – a figure that is expected to rise to 1.2 million over the coming weeks, if the conflict persists as its present level.

Sieges in a number of governorates, including Aden, Al Dhali, Lahj and Taiz, have been preventing staple food items, such as wheat, from reaching the civilian population, while airstrikes have reportedly targeted local markets and trucks laden with food items.

“The deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict may constitute a war crime, and could also constitute a crime against humanity in the event of deliberate denial of food and also the deprivation of food sources or supplies,” Ms. Elver continued. “The right to food does not cease in times of conflict, indeed it becomes more crucial as a result of the acute vulnerabilities in which individuals find themselves.”

The UN expert explained that in a country that relies on imports for 80 per cent of its food intake, current restrictions have resulted in steep price hikes, which, combined with increases in the price of diesel by some 47 per cent, are having a “devastating impact” on food security.

In addition, she said that both “an immediate and unconditional” humanitarian pause in hostilities and a boost in relief funding would be needed to prevent “a deepening national catastrophe in Yemen.”

“I call on the international community to do everything possible to provide on an emergency basis the necessary funding as well as essential aid,” concluded Ms. Elver.

According to the latest data released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the ongoing conflict in Yemen has taken a heavy toll on civilians, more than 1,895 of whom have been killed by fighting since March. More than 15 million people have no access to basic healthcare, while half the population does not have enough food to feed their families.