Why haven't we declared Yemen famine? Expert weighs in

Why haven't we declared a Yemen famine? Expert weighs in as aid cuts sting
3 min read
09 March, 2021
Though parts of Yemen are suffering huge food shortages a famine has not been declared.
Millions in Yemen are starving [Getty]
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Yemen with millions food insecure, yet the country has not been officially designated as suffering a famine, much to the ire of experts.

The challenge in Yemen is the difficulty in accessing official data records in the war-torn country.

"The problem is it is impossible to access the data required to declare a famine [in Yemen]," Elisabeth Kendall, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University told Al Jazeera’s Inside Story.

"We have managed to stave off famine in the past, by very generous funding, and very generous aid before Covid in times when governments were still willing to give aid," Kendall continued.

"But at the moment, we can't declare a famine because there's not enough data, although we can see that children and civilians are starving and at the same time aid is being dramatically cut.

The UN has already reported "famine-like conditions" in parts of Yemen, where almost half the population is facing hunger and food insecurity.

Global declaration and funding cuts

In order for a country to be classed as suffering from a famine, there must be a number of measurable conditions that need to be met, including statistics about people unable to access adequate food supplies, numbers of malnutrition, starvation and high death rates.

However, it is difficult for Yemen to quantify its famine due to lack of official numbers, which is in part due to the continued conflict in the country between Iran-backed Houthis and the internationally recognised government supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.

However, despite this lack of official classification, millions of civilians are in desperate need of aid - with the situation set to get worse with a massive drop in aid pledges last year.

The UK pledged £87 million ($122 million, 100 million euros) for Yemen at an international donors' conference this week, about half the amount it offered last year, prompting mass condemnation from human rights organisations. The UN received less than half of its $4 billion Yemen aid target in pledges from the international community this month.

Over 100 charities including Oxfam and Save the Children hit out at the UK's plans to slash by half of its humanitarian aid to war-torn Yemen, saying it would "destroy" London's image abroad.

"History will not judge this nation kindly if the Government chooses to step away from the people in Yemen and thus destroy the UK's global reputation as a country that steps up to help those most in need," the 101 signatories wrote in an open letter.

The United Nations chief later warned of a "death sentence" for Yemen.

"Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

Describing the outcome as "disappointing", he said the pledges were less than the UN received in 2020, when donations were first hit by the coronavirus downturn, and a billion dollars less than was pledged in the 2019 appeal.

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