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Press Release

Yemenis suffer from largest humanitarian crisis in the world

17 million face starvation as the world looks away

Last updated 
  • 60% of the population is facing critical food insecurity and require urgent humanitarian assistance
  • Hunger crisis is a result of conflict; civil war has obstructed food imports, devastated livelihoods and prevented the delivery of aid
  • The IRC has expanded its emergency humanitarian response throughout the country to address its highest level emergency, across conflict lines
  • The IRC calls for unimpeded humanitarian access for food imports and delivery and an increase in funding in order to save lives

Yemen is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world as 17 million people – almost two thirds of the population –  are critically food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said today. That’s more than the total number of people affected by food insecurity in South Sudan (4.9m), Somalia (2.9m) and northeast Nigeria (4.7m) combined. Children are particularly at risk with two million children under the age of five acutely malnourished.

Conflict and insecurity are the main drivers of the situation in Yemen. Civil war – roiling for nearly two years – has crippled the agricultural sector, driven up unemployment, impeded imports of staple food and humanitarian assistance, and sent food and fuel prices soaring. Ongoing conflict has also made it difficult for aid agencies to reach those in need with lifesaving supplies.

In 2012, political instability led to acute food shortages in Yemen, leaving almost half of the population in need of emergency food assistance. Five years later, warnings have still not been heeded.

The crisis in Yemen is not an accident, it’s the result of a failed peace process. The international community’s inability to secure political solutions to the conflict has left the population fighting for their survival; not only from war but now from starvation too

-Mohamed El Montassir Hussein, Yemen country director at the International Rescue Committee.

Insecurity, severe drought, and an exponential increase in food prices have left 30 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northeastern Nigeria critically food insecure. A key challenge across these regions is humanitarian access as ongoing violence continues to make it difficult to reach those most in need.

In Yemen, fighting rages on without regard for civilian safety and with deliberate efforts to block vital supply routes. Yemen imports around 90% of staple foods yet the main port of Hodeida faces imminent bombing, which would also cripple humanitarian and commercial operations.

Until earlier this month, the airport in the port city of Aden did not have humanitarian air service which meant that, to travel from the Capital Sana’a to the South, aid workers had to apply for a visa, fly to neighboring Djibouti, then get a 16-hour boat ride across the Red Sea. 

Having strongly advocated for an improved route, the IRC welcomes the news that humanitarian flights have resumed into Aden from Djibouti, which will have a significant impact on famine-relief efforts. However, the IRC continues to call for a direct humanitarian air service between Sana’a and Aden.

As the second anniversary of the conflict approaches, the IRC is calling for an immediate ceasefire so that aid agencies can access all areas of Yemen, unimpeded, to provide lifesaving humanitarian aid. This is critical at a time when the United States plans to cut foreign aid by nearly one third while the UN response plan is currently only 7% funded with a massive shortfall of US$1.9bn. An urgent increase in funding is required to meet the desperate needs of the population.

The IRC reclassified the crisis in Yemen to its highest levels and is scaling up work, working through partners to respond to nutrition and health needs in affected areas in the North and South and distributing cash vouchers for civilians to buy food in places where humanitarian access is less possible.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.