Millions in Yemen are being knowingly pushed to the brink of famine

Published: 23rd March 2017

Fighters in the Yemen war and their international backers are wilfully pushing the country to the brink of famine, Oxfam warned today - ahead of the two-year anniversary of the escalation of the war. Nearly 7 million people have been pushed to the brink of starvation and 70 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Oxfam is calling for urgent action on two fronts: an immediate resumption of the peace process and for donors to provide the additional $2.1 billion the UN says is needed for the humanitarian response. Currently the appeal is only 7 per cent funded.

Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam's Country Director in Yemen, said: "If the parties to the conflict – and those fuelling it with arm sales – continue to ignore Yemen’s food crisis, they will be responsible for a famine. The people of Yemen are being starved to death and may not survive the situation much longer.

"A fully funded humanitarian response is vital to prevent countless people dying needlessly but ultimately what Yemenis need is an end to the fighting. All sides to the conflict need to understand that famine is the real enemy of Yemen. Preventing famine must take priority over any side’s military aims. The world cannot wait for famine to be declared in Yemen or it will be too late.”

Over the last two years, airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 7,600 people, including over 4,600 civilians, forced over 3 million people from their homes and left 18.8 million people – 70 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, the greatest number in any country in the world.

Ports, roads and bridges, along with warehouses, farms and markets have been regularly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, draining the country’s food stocks. The Houthi led authority is delaying the delivery of life-saving relief, and sometimes detaining aid workers. This, coupled with a flattened economy, has created an abyss of hunger and led 6.8 million people on the brink of famine.

A blockade has been imposed on Yemen, preventing food coming in the country. While this has been partially eased, new restrictions on shipping and the destruction of many port facilities, such as the cranes of Al-Hudaydah port in August 2015 are punishing the Yemeni population and the country’s food supplies are running a critically low. Fighting on Yemen’s west coast escalated last month, especially around Al-Hudaydah and Mocha ports, which risks cutting off vital supplies to millions of people. In a worst-case scenario where food imports drop substantially or where conflict prevents supplies being moved around the country, famine is possible.

An Oxfam food survey of 2,000 families who have been forced to flee their homes in north-west Yemen, between November and December 2016, found that 85 percent of people were going hungry. The only options they have are to reduce the amount of food they eat or feed what little they have to their children and go hungry themselves. They skip meals and end up buying food of lesser quality, often on credit. Some have no source of food at all and only survive thanks to humanitarian aid and people’s generosity.

In order to save the lives of millions of starving people, Oxfam is urging the United Nations Secretary General to pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement and improve the economic situation in the country.

Oxfam is calling for all land, sea and air routes to Yemen to remain open and for attacks targeting military objects related to supply routes and infrastructure to not disproportionately affect civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.

Notes to editors

1. Oxfam's anniversary media brief describes a population at a breaking point. Between June 2015 and March 2016, the number of people going hungry in Yemen – those classified as food insecure – increased by more than 30 percent. Now an estimated 17 million people, 60 percent of the population, lack reliable access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food. In seven governorates, 6.8 million people are one step away from famine – that is severely food insecure – and have no idea where their next meal is coming from. This is a 60 percent increase since 2014. Download the media brief here:

2. Photos and stories from Yemen are also available.

3. Oxfam has reached more than a million people in eight governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance, food vouchers and other essential aid since July 2015. Link to Oxfam's Yemen appeal:

4. For more information on the food security situation in Yemen, go to Yemen: IPC Analysis – Acute Food Insecurity Current Situation Overview – March 2017

Contact information

Benjamin Wiacek | Yemen Media Lead | +216 53 547 791 (Tunis) | 

For updates, please follow @Oxfam or @OxfamYemen.

The public can support Oxfam's humanitarian response in Yemen.