Veteran aid expert Egeland warns of ‘Biblical’ famine in Yemen

A family eat breakfast outside their hut at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Yemen faces a “famine of Biblical proportions”, veteran aid expert Jan Egeland warned on Wednesday during a visit to the war-battered nation, expressing fury over the failure of the “men with guns and power” to end the crisis.

Yemen’s two years of civil war have pitted the Iran-aligned Houthi rebel group against a Saudi-backed coalition, causing economic collapse and severely restricting the food and fuel imports on which Yemen traditionally depends.

The United Nations conservatively estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed, according to data from the health facilities that are still functioning. Experts fear the real figure is much higher.

Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and also advises the U.N. on Syrian humanitarian operations, told Reuters by telephone from the Yemeni capital Sanaa that although Yemen’s war was smaller than Syria’s, it had led to an epic disaster.

“All our efforts through the World Food Programme reached 3.1 million of 7 million people who are on the brink of famine. So it means basically that 4 million people got nothing in April and these people are staring into the naked eye of starvation.

“We will have a famine of Biblical proportions, if it continues like now with only a portion of those in greatest need getting humanitarian relief,” he told Reuters after visiting Sanaa, the port of Aden and the town of Amran.

Egeland, a former head of the U.N. humanitarian office, said the crisis was not getting the international attention it needed because few journalists or diplomats could get into the country.

“MAN-MADE CRISIS”

“I’m coming out of here angry with those men with power and guns, inside Yemen, in regional capitals and international capitals who are not able to fix this man-made crisis,” Egeland said. “It’s not rocket science.”

Half a million children could die at any time, and many are already doing so “quietly and tragically” in their homes, he added.

Egeland urged the United States and Britain to help stop the war. They are allies of Saudi Arabia, leader of the alliance seeking to restore the internationally recognized Aden-based government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In a separate statement, he also appealed to Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates to stop adding “fuel to this fire”. The Sunni Muslim Gulf Arabs see Shi’ite Iran, their arch foe, as bent on regional domination, something Tehran denies.

Egeland said all relevant countries should work toward securing a ceasefire and “meaningful peace talks” as well as the lifting of economic restrictions and sanctions that have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

Last month a U.N. pledging conference for Yemen raised promises of $1.1 billion, about half of what is needed for the year. Without an immediate and massive injection of new cash, Egeland said, the aid flow will halt by July.

But the key to ending the humanitarian crisis is reviving the shattered, economy, as it is not possible to maintain a nation of 27 million people with aid injections, he said.

“When people have no income and the prices of food in the market have tripled, hungry people can only afford to look at the food in the market. They cannot afford to buy it,” Egeland said, adding that there were no food stocks left in Yemen.

“There are no reserves, there are no warehouses there like in many of the other wars I have visited. Everything goes straight into hungry mouths,” he said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Gareth Jones)

UN seeks to avert famine in Yemen, where a child dies every 10 minutes

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres attends the High-level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations needs massive funds to avert famine in Yemen and warring parties there must ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday as he opened a donor conference in Geneva.

A U.N. appeal for $2.1 billion this year for Yemen, where Guterres said a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes, is only 15 percent covered.

Two years of conflict between Houthi rebels aligned with Iran and a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that carries out air strikes almost daily have killed at least 10,000 people in Yemen, and hunger and disease are rife there.

Nearly 19 million people or two-thirds of the population need emergency aid, Guterres said, renewing a call for peace talks and urging all parties to “facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid by air, sea and land”.

“We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation. We must act now to save lives,” he added.

“All infrastructure must remain open and operational.”

Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid Bin Daghr said his government, which controls only part of the country, would allow access for aid supplies. “We are ready to open new corridors for this aid,” he said.

Initial pledges announced at the conference included $150 million from Saudi Arabia, $100 million from Kuwait, 50 million euros ($54.39 million) from Germany and $94 million from the United States.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has committed $1 billion to Yemen and reached a record 5 million people last month with rations but needs to scale up deliveries to reach 9 million who are deemed “severely food insecure”, its regional director Muhannad Hadi said in an interview.

They include some 3 million malnourished children.

“REAL FAMINE THAT WILL SHAME US”

“If the international community does not move right now, and if WFP does not get the right funding and support to address all needs, I think the cost of that will be real famine that will shame us in coming months and weeks,” Hadi told Reuters.

Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, 70 percent of which passes through the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah. Concerns are growing about a possible attack by the Yemeni government and its Arab allies, who say the Houthis use it to smuggle weapons and ammunition.

“We are concerned about (all) facilities in Yemen because at this stage we can’t afford to even lose one bridge or one road network let alone to lose a major facility like Hodeidah port,” Hadi said.

“In order to achieve security in this region, we have to address the food security needs. It’s impossible to have security in the country while people are hungry,” he said.

The U.N. called on April 5 for safeguarding of the port, where five cranes have been destroyed by airstrikes, forcing ships to line up offshore because they cannot be unloaded.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the conference the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are scaling up and are prepared to do more, “provided there are resources and access”.

(This version of the story corrects figure in para 2 to $2.1 billion instead of $1.2 billion)

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

Four countries face famine threat as global food crisis deepens

Internally displaced Somali children eat boiled rice outside their family's makeshift shelter at the Al-cadaala camp in Somalia's capital Mogadishu March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

LONDON (Reuters) – Global food crises worsened significantly in 2016 and conditions look set to deteriorate further this year in some areas with an increasing risk of famine, a report said on Friday.

“There is a high risk of famine in some areas of north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen because of armed conflict, drought and macro-economic collapse,” the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) said.

FSIN, which is co-sponsored by the United Nations food agency, the World Food Programme and the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the demand for humanitarian assistance was escalating.

FSIN said that 108 million people were reported to be facing crisis level food insecurity or worse in 2016, a drastic increase from the previous year’s total of almost 80 million.

The network uses a five phase scale with the third level classified as crisis, fourth as emergency and fifth as famine/catastrophe.

“In 2017, widespread food insecurity is likely to persist in Iraq, Syria (including among refugees in neighboring countries), Malawi and Zimbabwe,” the report said.

(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Yemen orphanage braves nearby air strikes

Boys play football in the yard of The al-Shawkani Foundation for Orphans Care in Sanaa, Yemen, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Khaled Abdullah

SANAA (Reuters) – After two years of war, orphans in the Yemeni capital Sanaa have only one dream – to survive.

The al-Shawkani Foundation for Orphan Care is located around 100 meters (yards) from the al-Nahdain mountain, widely believed to be an arms depot that has been repeatedly bombarded by Saudi-led coalition’s fighter jets.

Bombardment of the explosive-laden peak send huge mushroom clouds erupting into Sanaa’s skies and shake the whole city.

As the war rages on, the orphans suffer through a constant state of fear and trauma.

“We were scared, and every time we hear the plane’s noise, they (orphanage staff) would rush us quickly to the basement fearing for our safety,” said Mousa Saleh Munassar, 14.

“Many of my friends have left the orphanage and returned to their relatives,” he added. “I expect strikes nearby at any time.”

Mousa once dreamt of becoming a doctor, but describes the only dream he and his friends now share: “We want the war to calm down for us to see security and stability come back.”

Orphanage director Muhammad al-Qadhi says it relies on the generosity of private donors and charity groups.

But the war has devastated the economy and unleashed a humanitarian crisis, depleting savings and public resources.

“We are going through a pressing need for aid for these orphans amid the scarcity of resources that used to provide for them due to the ongoing war,” he said.

The foundation used to host around 350 orphans before the conflict began. Now only around one-third remain after most left for the relative safety of living with family members in the countryside.

Yemen’s conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthi movement and elements of the military against the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Saudi-led air strikes have repeatedly hit hospitals, homes and markets, but the kingdom denies targeting civilians.

Largely stalemated in nationwide battlefronts, the war has plunged millions into poverty, displaced millions of others and killed more than 10,000 people.

Children have born the brunt of the country’s collapse.

According to UNICEF, one child dies in Yemen every ten minutes from preventable diseases including malnutrition, respiratory infections and diarrhea.

Nine-year-old Abdulaziz Badr al-Faisari of the orphanage said he and his fellow orphans were terrified when bombs shake the whole building, but appeared resigned to his fate.

“We have had nowhere to flee.”

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

World has just months to stop starvation in Yemen, Somalia: Red Cross

People queue to collect food rations at a food distribution center in Sanaa, Yemen March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The world has got just three to four months to save millions of people in Yemen and Somalia from starvation, as drought and war wreck crops and block aid across the region, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

The agency said it needed $300 million to fund its work in those countries and other trouble spots in South Sudan and northeast Nigeria.

“We have probably a window of three to four months to avoid a worst case scenario,” Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC’s director of operations worldwide, told a Geneva news briefing.

“We have a kind of perfect storm where protracted conflict is overlapped, exacerbated by natural hazard, drought in particular in the Horn of Africa that is leading to the situation we are facing now,” he said.

More than 20 million people are facing famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, say aid agencies.

Cholera, which can be deadly for children, is on the rise in Somalia, while an average of 20 people in Yemen are dying each day from disease or war wounds, ICRC officials said.

The ICRC appealed for $400 million for its operations in the four countries this year, but has received only $100 million so far, it said.

The United Nations has appealed for about $5.6 billion, bringing total funding needs to $6 billion, Stillhart said.

“There are significant needs and of course there are serious concerns in terms of having funding available sufficiently fast in order to avert what I said was a large-scale starvation,” he said.

“In 2011 the response was too slow and too late leading to starvation of 260,000 people in Somalia alone,” he warned.

Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, said that an ICRC team who provided aid to wounded refugees after a helicopter attack killed more than 40 on their boat off the Yemen coast last Friday had collected “evidence”.

The evidence and ICRC concerns were shared with the Saudi-led coalition as well as the Houthi side, he said, declining to give more details.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tom Miles)

No famine in Yemen but over half on the brink: U.N.-backed report

A malnourished boy lies on a bed outside his family's hut in al-Tuhaita district of the Red Sea province of Hodaida, Yemen September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N.-backed report on Yemen has found no full-blown famine in the country but said 60 percent of Yemenis, or 17 million people, are in “crisis” or “emergency” food situations, 20 percent more than in June.

The World Food Programme said in a statement on Wednesday that the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah along the Red Sea risked slipping into famine if they did not receive more aid. Both have long traditions as food-producing regions.

The crisis follows two years of civil war pitting the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Saudi-backed coalition, which has caused economic collapse and severely restricted the food and fuel imports on which Yemen depends.

“If humanitarian actors do not access all the people in need by the coming months, the situation may deteriorate dramatically,” the report said.

Taiz and Hodeidah governorates, home to important Yemeni ports, “have the highest rates of global acute malnutrition in the country, ranging from 17 percent in Taiz City to 25 percent in Hodeidah,” the WFP said.

“The emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization is 15 percent,” it added.

The report was written by an expert team using the globally recognized IPC methodology. The IPC, or Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, is a system of analyzing food security on a five-point scale, where five is “famine”.

The report, drawing on analysis from 69 experts from Yemen’s government and regions, the United Nations and non-governmental institutions, said 10.2 million people were at phase three, or “crisis”, and 6.8 million at phase four, or “emergency”.

The worst affected governorates – those in the emergency phase – were Lahej, Taiz, Abyan, Sa’ada, Hajjah, Hodeidah and Shabwah, it said. Taiz, where heavy fighting looks likely to continue, has seen its biggest spike in livestock and commodity prices since the war escalated in 2015.

Yemen is one of four current famine or near-famine situations, along with South Sudan, northeast Nigeria and Somalia, with more than 20 million people at risk of starvation in the next six months.

Last month the U.N. said more than $4 billion was needed by the end of March to stave off starvation in the four countries on the brink of starvation.

U.N. officials say that once a famine is officially declared, it is usually too late because large numbers of people have already died.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

WFP head says ‘race against time’ under way to prevent Yemen famine

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, speaks during a news conference discussing the latest challenges the agency is facing in Yemen, in ?Amman, Jordan, March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – Aid workers are in a “race against time” to prevent famine threatening millions of people in Yemen, a senior U.N. official said in Monday.

“We have about three months of food stored inside the country today,” Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, told reporters in Amman after a three-day visit to the war-torn country.

“We do not have enough food to support the scale-up that is required to ensure that we can avoid a famine.”

After almost two years of war between a Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement, 7.3 million Yemenis are classed by the U.N. as “severely food insecure”.

“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,” Cousin said.

WFP was able to reach a record 4.9 million needy people in Yemen last month. But Cousin said inadequate funding meant it was forced to reduce food rations to stretch assistance to more people.

“What we have been doing is taking a limited amounts of food that we have in the country, and spreading it as far as possible, which means that we have been giving 35 percent rations on most months, we need to get to 100 percent rations,” she added.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said last month Yemen’s estimated supplies of wheat would run out at the end of March.

The U.N. has said it will need around $2 billion this year for humanitarian work in Yemen and calls the country the “largest food security emergency in the world”.

(Additional reporting by Bushra Shakhshir; editing by Andrew Roche)

U.S. says January raid in Yemen killed 4 to 12 civilians

Blood stains are seen at the site of a Saudi-led air strike which struck a house where mourners had gathered for a funeral north of Yemen's capital Sanaa, February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As many as 12 civilians died in a raid against al Qaeda in Yemen in late January, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command said on Thursday.

“We have made a determination based on our best information available that we did cause … between four and 12 casualties,” U.S. Army General Joseph Votel told a Senate hearing, adding he accepted responsibility for shortcomings in the operation.

Critics have questioned the value of the raid against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, authorized by President Donald Trump, in which U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens also died.

The Pentagon said it is carrying out an investigation into the details surrounding Owens’ death and another review into the destruction of a U.S. military helicopter in the operation.

Votel said a separate, “exhaustive after-action review” had not found incompetence, poor decision-making or bad judgment.

“As a result, I made the determination that there was no need for an additional investigation into this particular operation,” Votel said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Trump signs revised travel ban order, leaves Iraq off

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S.,

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool

By Steve Holland and Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order on Monday banning citizens from six Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the United States but removing Iraq from the list, after his controversial first attempt was blocked in the courts.

The new order, which the White House said Trump had signed, keeps a 90-day ban on travel to the United States by citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the new order would take effect on March 16. The delay aims to limit the disruption created by the original Jan. 27 order before a U.S. judge suspended it on Feb. 3.

Trump, who first proposed a temporary travel ban on Muslims during his presidential campaign last year, had said his original executive order was a national security measure meant to head off attacks by Islamist militants.

It came only a week after Trump was inaugurated, and it sparked chaos and protests at airports, as well as a wave of criticism from targeted countries, Western allies and some of America’s leading corporations.

“It is the president’s solemn duty to protect the American people,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after Trump signed the new order. “As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually re-evaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country.”

The leader of the minority Democrats in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said he expected the revised order to have the same uphill battle in the courts as the original version.

“A watered down ban is still a ban,” he said in a statement. “Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”

Trump’s original ban resulted in more than two dozen lawsuits in U.S. courts. Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington state, which succeeded in having the previous ban suspended, said he was “carefully reviewing” the new order.

IRAQ’S NEW VETTING

Iraq was taken off the banned list because the Iraqi government has imposed new vetting procedures, such as heightened visa screening and data sharing, and because of its work with the United States in countering Islamic State militants, a senior White House official said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who along with several other senior Cabinet members had lobbied for Iraq’s removal, was consulted on the new order and the updated version “does reflect his inputs,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

Thousands of Iraqis have fought alongside U.S. troops for years or worked as translators since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Many have resettled in the United States after being threatened for working with U.S. troops.

The White House official said the new executive order also ensures that tens of thousands of legal permanent residents in the United States – or green card holders – from the listed countries would not be affected by the travel ban.

The original order barred travelers from the seven nations from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. Refugees from Syria were to be banned indefinitely but under the new order they are not given separate treatment.

Trump’s first order was seen by opponents as discrimination against Muslims. The White House official said the new order had nothing to do with religion and that the administration would reset the clock on the 90-day travel ban.

But House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said “the Trump administration’s repackaging has done nothing to change the immoral, unconstitutional and dangerous goals of their Muslim and refugee ban.”

“NO ALLEGED CHAOS”

Trump publicly criticized judges who ruled against him and vowed to fight the case in the Supreme Court, but then decided to draw up a new order with changes aimed at making it easier to defend in the courts.

Refugees who are “in transit” and already have been approved would be able to travel to the United States.

“There’s going to be a very orderly process,” a senior official from the Department of Homeland Security said. “You should not see any chaos so to speak, or alleged chaos at airports. There aren’t going to be folks stopped tonight from coming into the country because of this executive order.”

The FBI is investigating 300 people admitted into the United States as refugees as part of 1,000 counter-terrorism probes involving Islamic State or individuals inspired by the militant group, congressional sources told Reuters on Monday, citing senior administration officials.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency was consulting its data to confirm the information.

The White House official said U.S. government agencies would determine whether Syria or other nations had made sufficient security improvements to be taken back into the refugee admissions program.

The new order spells out detailed categories of people eligible to enter the United States, such as for business or medical travel, or people with family connections or who support the United States.

“There are a lot of explicit carve-outs for waivers and given on a case-by-case basis,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu, Mica Rosenberg, Tim Ahmann and Idrees Ali; Editing by Bill Trott and Nick Tattersall)

U.N. urges aid access to Yemen ports to avert looming famine

A woman sits with her children near their tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Dharawan, near the capital Sanaa, Yemen February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

DUBAI (Reuters) – A United Nations aid official visiting both sides in Yemen’s civil war has urged them to guarantee more access to the country’s ports to let food, fuel and medicine imports in to ward off a looming famine.

Emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said the U.N. was urging international donors to step up their aid but the Yemenis had to ensure it could reach up to seven million people now facing severe food shortages.

Yemen has been divided by nearly two years of civil war that pits the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Western-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Nearly 3.3 million people in Yemen – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished, the U.N. says. They include 460,000 children under age of five with the worst form of malnutrition, who risk dying of pneumonia or diarrhea.

Fighting in or near ports hampers access for aid coming from outside.

“The international community needs to step up its funding and the parties to the conflict need to continue providing humanitarian access,” O’Brien told reporters at the government’s base in Aden late on Monday.

“This also means access to the ports so that the needed imports can enter Yemen,” he said.

Earlier this month, the U.N. said Saudi-led coalition air strikes on the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, which serves territory controlled by the Houthis, had hampered humanitarian operations to import vital food and fuel supplies.

Five cranes at the port have been destroyed, forcing dozens of ships to lie offshore because they cannot be unloaded.

“Seven million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from and we now face a serious risk of famine,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien has also met with the Houthi movement in the capital Sanaa. On Tuesday, he was planning to visit the flashpoint city of Taiz but his convoy returned from its gates because of security concerns, a U.N. source told Reuters.

Robert Mardini, regional director at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), voiced concern at the fate of 500,000 people in the port city of Hodeidah as the conflict moves north up the Red Sea coast.

The “lifeline” of aid moving through Hodeidah and other ports is starting to be cut, Mardini told reporters in Geneva. “In terms of reserves, there are reserves for two, three or four months, I don’t know. But there is an urgent need for re-supply, this is what we can say.”

U.N. has appealed for $2.1 billion to provide food and other life-saving aid, saying that Yemen’s economy and institutions are collapsing and its infrastructure has been devastated.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last week only $90 million of funding has been received so far, out of $5.6 billion needed this year for humanitarian operations in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, additionnal reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)