‘This is the darkest moment I have ever seen’: UN official describes crisis in Yemen

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The UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Sir Mark Lowcock, explains why money is needed now to help Yemenis.

    Sir Mark Lowcock, the United Nations’ under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, says millions of children could die if the world doesn’t wake up to what’s happening in Yemen.

    Here, he explains why rich countries that have pledged donations need to hand over the money to prevent a “catastrophe”:

    I have worked on Yemen for many years and have seen many bad moments. This is the darkest moment I have ever seen.

    
'This is the darkest moment I have ever seen': UN official describes crisis in Yemen

    The images of Salwa [in Mark Stone’s Yemen report] say it all. She is five years old and weighs three-and-a-half kilograms – the same as the average British newborn.

    I realise many people will find these images of deeply malnourished babies and children too distressing to look at.

    But we need to face up to the painful truth that if we don’t do something about it, lots of Yemeni children like Salwa will die miserable, pitiful deaths.

    Two million children under the age of five in Yemen are believed to be malnourished. Of them, about 325,000 have severe, acute malnutrition.

    Millions more people are going hungry across the country. And now COVID-19 is spreading rapidly.

    After years of war and deprivation, Yemenis’ immune systems are struggling to fight back.

    The best data we have show that one in four Yemenis who’ve contracted COVID-19 has died. That’s much higher than anything we’re seeing elsewhere.

    
'This is the darkest moment I have ever seen': UN official describes crisis in Yemen

    The UN and the aid organisations we work with can do something about all of this.

    But we need money.

    I recognise this is a difficult message right now. But without more money we will have to close the majority of our programmes.

    That means lots of people will die whom we could have helped.

    We raised lots of money for Yemen last year. It meant we were feeding 13 million people a month and giving people the clean water, sanitation and healthcare that helps fight diseases.

    But now the money has fallen away.

    The countries we relied on for funding are facing their own economic crises and they’re cutting funding.

    This year, we raised only half as much as we did in 2019.

    
'This is the darkest moment I have ever seen': UN official describes crisis in Yemen

    Gulf countries in particular have dramatically cut back their support for life-saving aid to Yemenis.

    And most of our donors still have not paid what they promised. Promises don’t save lives.

    The world has changed, I realise that. But it’s not fair for babies and children to pay the price.

    The world has a simple, straightforward choice. It can either resume funding for the Yemeni humanitarian operation and save millions of lives or it can watch as the country falls off the cliff.

    The pictures coming out of Yemen mean the world can watch what’s happening. There is no secret about what’s going on.

    The world just needs to wake up and decide whether it is willing to let millions of children simply lose their lives or whether it will step up and prevent a huge tragedy. It’s not too late.

    Of course there is a deeper problem here.

    The long-term solution to the tragic problems we see now in Yemen is peace.

    The men with guns and bombs need to put them down and get round the table and move forward in a peace process. This cannot happen soon enough.

    In the meantime, we face a humanitarian crisis. And that is a problem money can fix.

    So I will keep pushing for wealthy countries to do two things. First, pledge generously – in line with what they gave last year. Second, pay promptly. Pledges alone achieve nothing and we’re running out of time.

    I’m not prepared to stand by and watch a catastrophe unfold in Yemen when the world could so easily choose to stop it.

    Mark Lowcock is the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

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