A temporary truce in place across Yemen since April 2 has eased some hardships, but the country is still facing a dangerous food crisis in which 19 million people are going hungry, U.N. officials said Tuesday.
"The war in Ukraine is driving up prices of food and other commodities worldwide, as well as straining global supply chains," said Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, acting director for operations and advocacy in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "Yemen is particularly vulnerable to these kinds of shocks because almost everything it needs, including nearly all its food, must be imported."
She told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Yemen that some 19 million Yemenis are going hungry and that 160,000 of them are "on the brink of famine."
According to Mudawi, food prices have risen 10% since February, on top of a sharp rise last year. She said the Ministry of Planning forecasts a jump of 50% by year's end, which would make food unaffordable for many.
The United Nations and its aid partners reach 11 million people each month with assistance, but due to severe funding shortfalls, they have already reduced rations to 8 million people. Programs to provide nutrition, health care, clean water and sanitation are also struggling for cash, just as the World Food Program reports that the global fuel and food crisis has increased the cost of its Yemen operation by a staggering $30 million a month.
But the temporary truce, which the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels renewed on June 2 for another two months, is bringing some relief.
"There have been no confirmed airstrikes inside Yemen or cross-border attacks emanating from Yemen since the beginning of the agreement," U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg told the council. "And there has been a significant reduction in civilian casualties."
But he noted an increasing number of civilian casualties from landmines and unexploded ordnance, as people return to areas that had been behind front lines.
Also important, the truce has enabled the first commercial flights in six years to take off from Houthi-held Sana'a airport, and oil tankers have been able to unload at the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeidah, easing shortages.
"During the months of April and May, over 480,000 metric tons of fuel products were cleared — more fuel than entered Hodeidah during the whole of last year," Grundberg noted.
He said two more fuel tankers have been cleared at the port, and he hopes the momentum will continue as the arrival of fuel has shortened long lines at gas stations and allowed Yemenis to travel more easily throughout the country.
The special envoy is still working on negotiations to reopen some vital roads, particularly in the province of Taiz. The Houthis have surrounded the government-held city of Taiz since 2016, essentially imposing a blockade on residents.
"As Taizis know all too well, the only open roads to the city are long and arduous," the special envoy said. "Last November, I traveled myself for over six hours along the narrow, winding and rugged mountainous road from Aden to the city of Taiz. Before the conflict, the same trip on the main road would have only taken three hours."
Grundberg said he was encouraged by the positive response he received from Yemen's government but has yet to hear back from the rebels on his road-opening proposal.