UN warns COVID-19 is `roaring back' as Yemen faces famine

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, a malnourished girl, Rahmah Watheeq, receives treatment at a feeding center at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. In a grim update to the U.N. Security Council Thursday, April 15, 2021, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. humanitarian chief warned that the worlds largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen is getting even worse with the COVID-19 pandemic roaring back in recent weeks as the Arab worlds poorest country faces a large-scale famine. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, a malnourished girl, Rahmah Watheeq, receives treatment at a feeding center at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. In a grim update to the U.N. Security Council Thursday, April 15, 2021, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. humanitarian chief warned that the worlds largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen is getting even worse with the COVID-19 pandemic roaring back in recent weeks as the Arab worlds poorest country faces a large-scale famine. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

CAMEROON – The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Thursday that the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen is getting even worse with the COVID-19 pandemic “roaring back” in recent weeks as the Arab world’s poorest country faces a large-scale famine.

In a grim update to the U.N. Security Council, Mark Lowcock said tens of thousands of people already are starving to death, with another 5 million just a step behind.

Lowcock added that March was also the deadliest so far this year for civilians, with more than 200 killed or injured as a result of hostilities -- a quarter of the casualties in the oil-rich central province of Marib where Houthi rebel forces are pressing a military offensive. In March, nearly 350 private homes were also damaged or destroyed, he said.

To stop the “unfolding catastrophe,” Lowcock called for urgent action on protecting civilians, access for humanitarian aid, funding, support for Yemen’s economic and progress toward peace.

Because of funding cuts, the U.N. is now able to help only 9 million people a month, down from nearly 14 million a year ago, he said. A pledging conference on March 1 got promises of $1.7 billion, less than half of what’s needed, he said, and “more money for the U.N. response plan is the fastest, most efficient way to save millions of lives.”

In 2014, Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen’s north, driving the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile. A U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year against the Houthis to try and restore Hadi’s rule.

U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths called for a nationwide cease-fire and urged the warring parties to agree on a specific time to launch political talks aimed at ending the six-year conflict. He pointed to COVID-19 unleashing itself again on the Yemeni people, “the urgent humanitarian situation,” and continuing violence especially in the oil-rich central province of Marib.

The Houthis launched an offensive in Marib to try to take the ancient desert city, where about 1 million Yemenis have fled since 2015 to get away from fighting elsewhere. Griffiths said “fighting in the area is showing dangerous signs of escalating once again,” with displaced people “in the line of fire.