10 million Yemenis ‘one step away from famine’, UN food relief agency calls for ‘unhindered access’ to frontline regions

With Yemen now in its fifth year of conflict between pro-Government forces and Houthi rebels, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is calling for “unhindered access” to the most desperate areas in the frontline regions “to prevent the food security situation deteriorating”.

Yemen Map No. 3847 Rev. 3 UNITED NATIONS, January 2004, by UN Department of Field Support/Cartographic Section



WFP/Annabel SymingtonThe World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food assistance for those most urgently in need of support in what has emerged as one of the world’s worst hunger crises, 2019.    26 March 2019Humanitarian Aid



“Today twenty million Yemenis – some 70 per cent of the population – are food insecure, marking a 13 per cent increase from last year”, WFP Spokesperson Herve Verhoosel told reporters at a regular press briefing in Geneva. “Nearly 10 million of them are one step away from famine”.

After receiving reports that intensive clashes erupted in several locations within Hudaydah city, including an attack yesterday on a key supply route from Hudaydah to Sana’a, WFP expressed security concerns in ensuring proper humanitarian support by WFP and other UN agencies.

Hudaydah has been the focus of clashes between Government forces and Houthi opposition fighters. It is a crucial gateway for the entry of aid, desperately needed to save millions of Yemenis from starvation.

Last December, UN-brokered consultations between the Government and Houthi leaders resulted in the Stockholm Agreement, which set out terms for ongoing troop-withdrawal negotiations and a ceasefire that continues to hold, albeit fragilely.

Meanwhile since early this month, warring factions in a northern district, have displaced some 11,000 families in Hajjah governorate, an area on Yemen’s northern Red Sea coast, which borders Saudi Arabia.

“In northern Hajjah governorate, already one of the most food insecure areas of Yemen, a recent surge in violence risks pushing thousands more to catastrophic levels of hunger”, he said.

Moreover, in the last six months, the number of people displaced by violence has increased sharply from 203,000 to around 420,000.

WFP’s ongoing rapid-response food rations have been able to support over 5,000 families and Hajjah governorate has around 200 food distribution points covering 1.5 million people.

According to Mr. Verhoosel, WFP classes 28 of 31 districts in Hajjah as humanitarian emergencies, eight of which are experiencing pockets of “catastrophic levels of food insecurity”.

“In the next few days WFP will begin distributing food rations to all families in Kushar district”, he said, noting that the “epicenter of recent violence in Hajjah governorate” was a mountainous district only 31 miles from the Saudi border.

Mr. Verhoosel spelled out: “We also need access to the districts surrounding Kushar, which have likely received a surge of families fleeing violence”. He noted that neither WFP nor its partners have, so far, been able to access the districts of Harad, Mustaba, Midi and Hayran where an estimated 50,000 people teeter on the brink of starvation.

“Once again”, the spokesperson said, “WFP needs free and unhindered access to the vulnerable populations in these districts if we are to prevent the food security situation from further deterioration.”

WFP is scaling up this year to reach 12 million people each month; a 50 per cent increase over its 2018 targets, including eight million with food rations; 2.4 with commodity vouchers and, eventually, 1.6 million with cash assistance.

On International Day, UN stands in solidarity with some 20 detained staff

Marking International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to UN personnel abducted, detained or missing while serving.

“Day in and day out, deed by deed, United Nations personnel work unwaveringly to help the most vulnerable, protect the planet and build a better future for all,” said Mr. Guterres. “Sadly, fulfilling this vital mission, often entails great perils.”

In 2018, 16 UN staff members were kidnapped or abducted, and one so far in 2019. All have been released.

UNDACUnited Nations staff serving in the field. Malawi, 2015.    25 March 2019UN Affairs

In addition, according to the UN’s security department headquartered in New York, about 20 UN staff members from a dozen agencies are currently under arrest or being detained, including several held without charges being made explicit. Given the sensitive nature of some of the cases, no further details on specific cases can be disclosed.

“We will continue to do everything within our means to secure our colleagues’ release,” said the UN chief, in his statement.

The International Day was created on the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett, who worked for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) until he was abducted by armed gunmen in 1985. His body was finally found in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in 2009.

“I call on all countries to support the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel as well as its 2005 Optional Protocol,” said Mr. Guterres, deploring that, to date, only 95 countries are party to the Convention and only 33 to the Optional Protocol.
 
“Whether in their home countries or abroad, United Nations staff members have an admirable commitment to service. Their safety must be our priority.”

UN urges ‘maximum restraint’ as Israel-Hamas tensions rise over rocket attack

The UN Secretary-General said he was “gravely concerned” by the firing of a rocket from Gaza deep into Israel on Monday which reportedly injured seven people, including three children, north of the capital Tel Aviv.

Briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters in New York in the middle of the day, UN SpokespersonStéphane Dujarric, said that the rocket attack was “a serious and unacceptable violation.”

UN PhotoPhotograph taken from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing between Israel and Gaza.12 May 2018    25 March 2019Peace and Security

He also noted the reports of Israeli fire directed towards Gaza in response, saying that the UN chief was “monitoring events” closely. According to news reports, Israeli forces said they had carried out strikes against what were described as Hamas targets, and Gaza’s health ministry reported that seven had been injured during the retaliatory air strikes.

The extremist group Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006, but so far, no group has claimed responsibility for launching the rocket on Monday morning, according to latest media reports, which penetrated further into Israel than any attack since the end of the most recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, in 2014.

Mr. Dujarric, told reporters that the Secretary-General was due to meet his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, on Tuesday “who is also scheduled to brief the Security Council in person and where he will discuss the latest developments”, adding that the Council meeting was “a pre-scheduled briefing.”

“We continue to work with Egypt and all concerned parties to try to de-escalate the situation and again, encourage restraint” said Mr. Dujarric. “Further escalation is likely to make an already bad situation worse, in particular for civilians in and close to Gaza,” he added.

‘Uphold human dignity’, dismantle ‘specious notion of racial superiority’ urges UN chief

UN Photo/Loey FelipeExhibition for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at UN Headquarters in New York, March, 2019.    25 March 2019Human Rights

Raise awareness of the dangers of racism and “stand up against old and new forms of slavery” was the resounding message of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday during a special event marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

“Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were among history’s most appalling manifestations of human brutality”, he reminded delegates from across the world gathered in the General Assembly Hall with a call for “justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent”. 

In 2007, the UN designated 25 March as a day to honour and remember those who suffered during the transatlantic slave trade: “We pay homage to the millions of African men, women and children who were denied their humanity and forced to endure abominable cruelty across centuries”, Mr. Guterres said. 

Over the course of 400 years, more than 15 million people have been killed and irrevocably harmed “by an institution that should never have existed”, the UN chief lamented. He flagged that they were more than just victims, and often “sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom and dignity”. 

The Secretary-General urged everyone to remember not only the brutality meted out against them, but also their “remarkable endurance, resilience and countless contributions” to humankind. 

He recalled a few of the many who “stood up against their oppressors”, citing Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil, Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, the Kingdom of Matamba, which resisted Portuguese colonization, and Harriet Tubman in the United States. 

This year’s theme: “Remember Slavery: Power of the Arts for Justice”, recognizes the contribution of art as an instrument to “confront slavery, empower enslaved communities, and honour those who made freedom possible”.  

Literature, music and poetry are among the artforms that commemorate past struggles, highlight ongoing injustices and celebrate the achievements of people of African descent.  

“Today, the artists and writers and poets who are committed to the struggle for racial equality and empowerment should know we are with them”, Mr. Guterres stated, saying “let us resolve to carry their messages far and wide” to fight racism, combat xenophobia, tackle discrimination, end social and political marginalization and “uphold human dignity for one and all”.   

Hate speech ‘spreading like wildfire’ 

Earlier in the day, Mr. Guterres observed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination “to renew our promise to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including social and ethnic discrimination, anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Semitism”. 

At a commemorative event also in the General Assembly ,he recalled the New Zealand mosques massacre in which 50 were killed allegedly by a self-avowed white supremacist gunman, as “the latest tragedy rooted in such poison”, saying that last Friday he visited the Islamic Center in New York to show solidarity and express his outrage. 

“Today and every day, we must stand united against racial and religious hatred and the terrorism of bigots” spelled out the UN chief. 

Alarmed by the current rise of xenophobia, racism and intolerance being fed by nationalist and populist ideologies, he asserted that “no country or community is immune”. 

“Hate speech is entering the mainstream, spreading like wildfire through social media and radio… in liberal democracies and authoritarian States alike”, he underscored. 

The UN chief argued that “these dark forces” menace democratic values, social stability and peace, and stigmatize women, minorities, migrants and refugees – diminishing society. 

To combat hate speech, and “defend the principles of equality and human dignity”, Mr. Guterres has asked his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to coordinate a strategy and plan of action for the UN system. 

“We need to engage everyone in dismantling the harmful and specious notion of racial superiority” he spelled out, emphasizing that the recent surge of neo-Nazi thinking and white supremacist ideology must be buried “once and for all”. 

Commemorative meeting on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

This can be supported by national legislation that promotes non-discrimination, and by politicians and religious leaders who speak out against intolerance and hate speech, said Mr. Guterres. 

He recounted how a white Englishman had stood in solidarity with New Zealand’s Muslim community days after the murders, by holding a placard at a mosque in the United Kingdom saying “You are my friends…I will keep watch while you pray.” 

“We are all connected by our humanity.  We are all equal.  We should all be looking out for each other’s welfare” concluded the Secretary-General. 

Global co-operation needed ‘like never before’  

For her part, General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa pointed to an observation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that populists rely on demonizing the “other”, saying that across the world, “populists are exploiting the legitimate grievances of those who feel left behind”.  

 “Hate speech isn’t free speech. It’s racism”, she declared, adding that blaming problems on migrants must be pushed back and short-sighted nationalism must not be allowed to derail the search for global solutions.  

“The challenges we face require global co-operation like never before”, said Ms. Espinosa. “Multilateralism makes us stronger, not weaker. The 2030 Agenda is a framework all governments can use to respond to the needs and aspirations of their citizens”.