No time to waste as Yemen nears famine: UNICEF

The head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Monday warned that there is no time to waste as war-torn Yemen inches toward famine, report UNB/Xinhua.

"There is no time to waste. Children in Yemen need peace. An end to this brutal conflict is the only way they can fulfil their potential, resume their childhood and, ultimately, rebuild their country," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

Raising alarm over "an imminent catastrophe" in war-ravaged Yemen, Fore reiterated the urgent need for combatants to stop fighting.

Fore also appealed to the international community to step up and provide urgently needed funds for aid programs.

The UNICEF chief repeated the call on all parties to the conflict to ensure that children are protected and that unhindered access to communities in need is ensured.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced deep concern over the situation in Yemen, calling for urgent action on the part of the international community to "stave off catastrophe."

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock on Nov. 17 allocated 100 million U.S. dollars to help people feed themselves in Yemen and other countries most at risk from the growing hunger epidemic caused by conflict, economic decline, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yemen remains the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the result of five years of a brutal conflict, disease, economic collapse and a breakdown of public institutions and services. A staggering 80 percent of the country's population - over 24 million people - require some form of humanitarian assistance and protection, including more than 12 million children.

The situation has worsened dramatically with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has turned a deep crisis into an imminent catastrophe," said Fore.

According to UNICEF, with the pandemic spreading, Yemen is facing an "emergency within an emergency." Sanitation and clean water are in short supply, and only half of health facilities are functioning. Many that remain operational lack basic equipment like masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the coronavirus. Many health workers and public sector employees have not been paid in months.

Fore went on to note that UNICEF has been working in Yemen for decades, and that in recent years, it has expanded its presence to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to millions of children, helping alleviate suffering and save lives.

"But we cannot hold back the tide indefinitely," she warned, underscoring the need for guns to fall silent, in line with the secretary-general's call for a global ceasefire so nations can focus instead on the common enemy, COVID-19.

"All parties to the conflict must keep children out of harm's way and allow unhindered access to communities in need - as is their duty under international humanitarian law," she said.

The UNICEF chief also called on donors to "step up and provide urgently needed additional funds."

UNICEF's humanitarian appeal for Yemen for 2020, requiring 535 million U.S. dollars, has received just 237 million dollars - a funding gap of almost 300 million dollars.