Mark Lowcock (at podium), United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, briefs press after the Security Council on the situation in Yemen. Photo by: Kim Haughton / U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — The humanitarian crisis is worsening in Yemen and approximately 10 million more Yemenis may slip into pre-famine conditions by the end of the year, United Nations humanitarian officials warned on Monday.

“It is a grim but wholly unshakeable fact that we are losing the battle to prevent famine in Yemen,” Lisa Grande, U.N. resident coordinator in Yemen, said at a high-level meeting on the Yemen crisis during the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. “There is no other place in the world where people are suffering so greatly."

Grande spoke alongside Mark Lowcock, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, and Tedros Adhanom, World Health Organization director-general, among others engaged in the humanitarian relief work underway in Yemen. Lowcock said earlier this week that famine could strike at any time in the country, and that it could possibly be too late to intercept the imminent risk.

One hundred and eighty-three U.N. agencies and partners are working in Yemen, where 75 percent of the population, or about 22 million civilians, require some form of humanitarian assistance in what is often referred to as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. About 8.4 million people are facing a level of food insecurity so extreme that they do not know how they will get their next meal, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

No other country in the world has a higher percentage of the population that requires outside help to survive, according to Grande. Donors have partially met the U.N.’s $3 billion appeal for the Yemeni crisis with $1.93 billion to date.

UN gets $2B for Yemen amid access struggle

Record-level funding for the humanitarian response in Yemen speaks to the country's deteriorating situation. But the support won't help humanitarian agencies — or Yemeni people — facing ongoing access issues.

Humanitarian and development support has helped thwart some risks, Tedros noted. The threat of a cholera crisis facing 85-90 percent of Yemenis earlier this year never materialized, in part because the U.N. helped vaccinate 650,000 people during a temporary ceasefire between warring parties. The number of suspected cholera cases, meanwhile, continued to increase over the past several months through September, according to the European Commission Humanitarian Aid operations.

“Our experience shows that in protracted crises it is possible and necessary to provide humanitarian assistance in a way that does not just relieve human suffering, but continues to restore health services,” said Tedros, noting that a political solution is ultimately needed to end the crisis. “This was possible because of flexible, unearmarked funding.”

Yet despite intense humanitarian engagement, continued economic collapse and fighting over the key port city of Hodeida are further challenging the crisis.

The weekend of Sept. 7-9 marked one of Yemen’s deadliest so far, with more than 84 conflict-related fatalities reported in Hodeidah health facilities alone, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Grande voiced several requests, including the guarantee that all ports can stay open, and for airports to function freely. More funding will likely be necessary, she said.

“We need salaries paid first and foremost to teachers,” she said.  “We need parties to the conflict to put civilians first. Finally, we need more money with trends going the way they are. We are going to need as many resources — if not more than last year. We need to face the possibility that Yemen may collapse.”

NCDs. Climate change. Financing. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 73rd U.N. General Assembly here.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.