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Yemen pledging conference: Severity of suffering ‘impossible to overstate’ says Guterres 

Despite that, millions of Yemenis desperately need more aid to survive, with some $1.7 billion pledged by the end of the morning – falling short of the appeal when the conference began, for $3.85 billion. 

“Cutting aid is a death sentence”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said after the event concluded. “The best that can be said about today is that it represents a down payment”.  

Thanking those who did pledge generously, he urged others to reconsider what they can do to “help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades”.  

“In the end, the only path to peace is through an immediate, nationwide ceasefire and a set of confidence-building measures, followed by an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under United Nations auspices, and supported by the international community. There is no other solution”, Mr. Guterres spelled out. 

“The United Nations will continue to stand in solidarity with the starving people of Yemen”.   

Famine ‘bearing down’ 

Speaking earlier at the conference to help lift the spectre of starvation looming over 16 million people, the UN chief warned, “famine is bearing down on Yemen”, adding that it’s “impossible to overstate the severity of the suffering”. 

He painted a grim picture of more than 20 million Yemenis in desperate need of assistance and protection – especially women and children. 

Around two-thirds are suffering food shortages, healthcare or other lifesaving support, while some four million have been forced from their homes, with hundreds of thousands of others under threat.  

Around 50,000 are already starving in famine-like conditions, with some 16 million at risk of hunger this year – with the most acute cases in conflict-affected areas. 

“The risk of large-scale famine has never been more acute”, spelled out the UN chief. “The race is on, if we want to prevent hunger and starvation from taking millions of lives”. 

‘Unbearable’ conditions 

The Secretary-General said that last year, the conflict killed or injured more than 2,000 civilians, devastated the economy and crushed public services.  

And noting that barely half of Yemen’s health facilities are fully functional, he pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as “one more deadly threat in a country facing such severe health challenges”.  

“For most people, life in Yemen is now unbearable”. 

‘Special kind of hell’ 

Against the backdrop that children are starving and nearly half of those under age five are facing acute malnutrition – suffering wasting, depression and exhaustion – Mr. Guterres called childhood in Yemen “a special kind of hell”. 

He warned that 400,000 children face severe acute malnutrition and could die without urgent treatment and noted starving children are even more vulnerable to preventable diseases like cholera, diphtheria and measles.  

Sick and injured children are turned away by overwhelmed health facilities that lack the drugs or equipment to treat them. 

“Every ten minutes, a child dies a needless death from diseases”, he lamented. “And every day, Yemeni children are killed or maimed in the conflict”.  

And long after the guns fall silent, they will continue to pay a high price with many never fulfilling their physical and mental potential.  

“This war is swallowing up a whole generation of Yemenis”, he said. “It has to stop”.  

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Secretary-General António Guterres (standing at left) and Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, take part in the high-level pledging event for the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

A plea for peace 

Stressing that “there is no military solution”, the UN chief upheld that all actions must be driven by a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  

He detailed that an immediate, nationwide ceasefire and a set of confidence-building measures, followed by an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under UN auspices, supported by the international community was “the only path to peace”. 

“The people of Yemen have articulated what they want: lifesaving support from the world; peaceful political participation; accountable governance; equal citizenship and economic justice”, he said. 

Flagging that this was the fifth high-level humanitarian pledging event for Yemen, he maintained “the bitter truth” that there would be a sixth one next year, “unless the war ends”.  

“We must create and seize every opportunity to save lives, stave off a mass famine, and forge a path to peace”, said the Secretary-General. 

Situation never worse 

Last year’s humanitarian funding fell to half of what was needed and half of what was received the year before. The country’s currency has collapsed and overseas remittances dried up with the pandemic, he said, and humanitarian organizations have reduced or closed their programmes, creating a humanitarian situation that “has never been worse”.  

“The impact has been brutal”, he stated, adding that any reduction in aid is “a death sentence for entire families”.  

Time ‘not on our side’ 

Moderating the event, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that more money for Yemen’s aid operation was “the fastest, most efficient way to prevent a famine” and would also “help create the conditions for lasting peace”.  

UN Resident Coordinator David Gressly said that if the world chooses not to help today “or not help enough”, the misery will continue to grow.    

“Time is not on our side” to avoid a likely unprecedented famine he said, urging everyone to “take the current opportunity and run with it”.  

Protect women 

Due to severe funding shortages and possible reproductive health facility closures – compounded by rising risks posed by COVID-19 and looming famine – the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) emphasized that more than 100,000 could die from pregnancy and childbirth complications.  

“If lifesaving reproductive health and protection services stop, it will be catastrophic for women and girls in Yemen, placing them at even greater risk”, said Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director. “Funding is urgently needed to save lives and to keep facilities open to protect the health, safety and dignity of women and adolescent girls”. 

Silent emergency 

World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley highlighted that a lack of funding will have a catastrophic impact on Yemen’s children, and called on partners to step up and help prevent this silent emergency.  

The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said that hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children could die without urgent treatment, pushing for “urgent action to reverse this catastrophe”.

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Yemen: UN ceasefire monitoring mission condemns attack on civilians in Hudaydah

Three other civilians were also said to have been wounded in the attack, which reportedly hit a residential house in the militarily tense area of Al Hawak in Hudaydah governorate, late on Saturday (local time). 

“These devastating and ongoing civilian casualties are yet another violation of International Humanitarian Law and the terms of the Hudaydah Agreement and ceasefire,” Lieutenant General (Ret) Abhijit Guha, UNMHA head and Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee said. 

Lt. Gen. Guha appealed on both parties to prevent inflicting further misery on an already suffering population, and reiterated the call for freedom of movement for UNMHA to enable its military monitors to access sites of recent and significant military hostilities. 

“This will allow UNMHA to better assess the conflict and in turn enable further support to the parties to the Hudaydah Agreement in implementing the terms of the ceasefire.” 

‘One step away from famine’ 

In addition to years of brutal war, severe economic decline and institutional collapse, Yemenis are living through the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 20 million people across the country are in need of assistance and protection. Nearly 50,000 people are already living in famine-like conditions, and about five million, just one step away.  

Complicating matters further is that the funding for relief operations is running out fast. This year, $3.85 billion is needed to help 16 million in desperate need. Against this backdrop, the UN together with the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland are convening a high-level pledging event on Monday, to raise funds for aid efforts in Yemen. 

“An adequately funded aid operation will prevent the spread of famine and create the conditions for lasting peace. If you’re not feeding the people, you’re feeding the war”, Mark Lowcock, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said. 

“We are at a crossroads with Yemen. We can choose the path to peace or let Yemenis slide into the world’s worst famine for decades”, he warned. 

Childhood in Yemen ‘a special kind of hell’ 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined the impact of the crisis on Yemen’s most vulnerable, its children. 

“For most people, life in Yemen is now unbearable. Childhood in Yemen is a special kind of hell”, he said 

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children account for about 54 per cent of those in need of support in Yemen.  

One of the greatest concerns is hunger preying on young children and infants. Humanitarians warn that nearly half of Yemen’s children under five will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, and that 400,000 could die without urgent treatment. 

“This war is swallowing up a whole generation of Yemenis. We must end it now and start dealing with its enormous consequences immediately. This is not the moment to step back from Yemen”, Mr. Guterres urged. 

UNICEF urges repatriation of all children in Syria’s Al-Hol camp following deadly fire

In and around the notorious camp which has housed many families of alleged extremist fighters since the defeat of ISIL in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, “there are more than 22,000 foreign children of at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children”, said UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ted Chaiban.

According to the UN, a fire broke out on Saturday evening during a family gathering among displaced Syrian camp residents. One woman reportedly died along with the three children, and at least 11 adults were injured. At least 20 people overall remain in hospital, with six reported to be in critical condition.

No basic services

“Children in Al-Hol are faced not only with the stigma they are living with, but also with very difficult living conditions where basic service are scarce or in some cases unavailable”, said Mr. Chaiban.

“The detention of children is a measure of last resort and should be for the shortest time possible. Children should not be detained based solely on suspected family ties with armed groups or the membership of family members in armed groups.”

Earlier this month, independent UN human rights experts noted that an “unknown number” of foreign nationals had died in the squalid camp of Al-Hol and Roj, in northeast Syria, urging their home countries to repatriate their citizens as soon as possible, dismissing claims that it was too difficult to deal with the non-State groups controlling the local area.

Mr. Chaiban said Member States should do everything possible to reintegrate the children into their own societies and repatriate them in a “safe and dignified way”

“We call on all member states to provide children – who are their citizens or born to their nationals- with civil documentation to prevent statelessness. This is in line with the best interests of the child and in compliance with international standards.

Syria aid chiefs denounce ‘dangerous conditions’

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Mr. Muhannad Hadi, expressed their sorrow over the deadly fire at Al Hol, in a statement also released on Sunday.

They extended their heartfelt sympathy to the affected families and wished those injured a speedy recovery.

“They further emphasize that this distressing event underlines the fact that no one – most of all innocent children – should be living under the challenging and potentially dangerous humanitarian conditions in Al Hol camp.”

Humanitarian partners working at Al-Hol have mobilized to provide urgent assistance, and UN and humanitarian partners provide a “comprehensive range of humanitarian assistance to the camp, including emergency and primary health care; water; shelter; non-food items, food and hygiene distributions; nutrition; and protection”, said the statement.

© UNICEF/Delil Souleiman
A young boy photographed at Al-Hol refugee camp in the northeastern desert of Syria. (July 2019)

Fires not uncommon

With almost 62,000 residents, Al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people in Syria. More than 80 per cent of the population are women and children.

Accidental fires are not uncommon in the camp, said the senior UN officials, with families often resorting to using cooking stoves inside their tents for warmth, particularly during winter when temperatures regularly drop below freezing.

Mr. Riza and Mr. Hadi expressed concern that unless measures are taken to address the long-term welfare of residents, “more tragic incidents at Al Hol are inevitable.”

First Person: Yemen ‘cannot even afford to worry about the coronavirus’

UNHCR’s Jean-Nicolas Beuze meets a Syrian woman at a refugee camp in Zarqa Governorate, Jordan in 2017., by © UNHCR/David Azia

Famine, conflict and widespread poverty mean that Yemen is one of the toughest countries in the world in which to live, both for internally displaced people and refugees who have arrived from countries like Somalia.

Ahead of a major international conference to raise funds for humanitarian aid initiatives in Yemen, UNHCR’s Jean-Nicolas Beuze has been speaking to the head of communications for the UN, Melissa Fleming, as part of the podcast series Awake at Night.

“The situation in Yemen is really dire. I’ve worked in some pretty tough places including Syria, Sudan, Libya and Afghanistan, but this is one of the worst and most desperate places I’ve experienced.

Probably two-thirds of the population relies on our humanitarian assistance for their daily survival. Half of the health facilities have been destroyed by five years of conflict. One person in eight has been displaced by conflict. There is cholera, malaria, chikungunya, and dengue fever and, on top of all this, we now have coronavirus, which is not even the main concern in terms of communicable diseases.

So, it’s a combination of all those factors that means people are barely keeping their heads above the water. I see that on a daily basis, when I go and meet families who have been displaced by the conflict.

Dignity in suffering

I recently visited a shelter in Hudaydah. I was playing with the kids, asking questions to the parents and in the corner, there was a woman who had a beautiful dress with an African print. But I noticed she had a disfigured face.

She had been entirely burned by an explosion, from a bomb which had dropped next to her. She was going to the market to buy food for her kids and she told me how her entire body had caught fire. This is the kind of image which stays with you.

There was something extremely elegant and dignified about the way she interacted with me. She didn’t beg for anything. She was not appealing for help. She probably knew that there was very little we could really do, except perhaps help with some cash assistance to provide a little more comfort.

She would need treatment in another country, because the medical facilities here do not have the services she required.  She was resigned to her suffering, and like any mother in the world and a widow, she was concerned more about the survival of her kids.

UN OCHA/Giles Clarke
Yemen has been devasted by five years of conflict.

COVID-19 scapegoats

Somali refugees in Yemen have been here for decades. The situation now of refugees specifically in Yemen is one of discrimination, of scapegoating. It was quite worrisome at the beginning of the pandemic to see this, despite the fact that refugee communities have been relatively well integrated.

The Yemeni people needed to find an explanation or a scapegoat for COVID-19. So, they pointed fingers at the refugees coming from Africa. There was an element of racism.

There were allegations that they were not as healthy and focused on hygiene as the Yemeni population. And there was prejudice related to the migratory status of these people, as we saw the same reaction to internally displaced Yemenis who were on the move.

Survival comes first

Most people live in one room probably with an extended family with two or three generations, with maybe cousins, because people can simply not afford rent. So, everybody gathers in the same room to cook and sleep. So, it is very interesting to engage with them on what it means to take preventative measures against COVID-19.

You cannot be two metres apart from a family member, who may show symptoms, because there’s only one room. You cannot wash your hands regularly because there is no tap water, and children have to be sent five kilometres to find water. You don’t wash your hands because if it’s a choice between buying rice and soap, you choose rice.

You don’t stop going out to beg on the street or to work a job for meagre wages because the money you get in the morning is the money which allows you to buy lunch.

 

© UNICEF
Many Yemeni families are forced to live in very close contact to each other

It was fascinating how even the UN was obsessed about saying you need to empower people to take the preventative measure and I responded, ‘come on, let’s wait a minute. This is not realistic for any of the people I meet’.

Yes, the Western world worries about coronavirus, but Yemen cannot even afford to worry about the coronavirus because we have other communicable diseases which can kill you. All that. Plus, there is a famine.

I met a little girl, Fatima, who was 14 months old, and she weighed five kilos, half of what she should have weighed; she was suffering from severe malnutrition. And it was really sad because her father explained she was not able to hold in her food, that she had diarrhea. It was very difficult for him to understand that his child was malnourished or maybe he had just blocked the fact from his mind.

Somebody once asked me, ‘What are the hopes and dreams of Yemeni people’? I was really taken aback because I cannot really respond to this question. The conversations with Yemeni displaced families, and even my colleagues, reveal that although they may have dreams of moving away or studying, most of them are just concerned about their daily survival.

Listen to the audio interview here

FROM THE FIELD: Humanitarian crises of concern in 2021

A woman survivor of gender-based violence in Kalemie, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. , by UNOCHA/Alioune Ndiaye

Syria and Yemen are probably the best known long-running conflict zones. A decade of fighting in Syria has seen millions of people displaced, many requiring humanitarian assistance. Yemen, meanwhile, remains the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, where the risk of large-scale famine has never been more acute.

Insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has compounded the country’s economic decline, and DRC now has the world’s second highest number of people who are classified as severely food insecure, and the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa. 

And in the Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, a perfect storm of climate change, weak governance, poverty and chronic underdevelopment have combined to create an unprecedented security and humanitarian crisis. 

Read more here about these, and other crises of major concern.
 

In Yemen’s man-made catastrophe, women and girls pay the price

Abia – whose name we have changed for her privacy and protection – was worried, too. 

Since I got pregnant, I had been living in constant fear…

“Since I got pregnant, I had been living in constant fear”, she told workers from the UN sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA. “I heard of many girls in my village losing their lives and their babies giving birth at my age.” 

Escalating hostilities had forced her family to flee from the contested major southern city of Taizz, to the camp. There, Abia said, “we could not afford to travel to a hospital, and did we not know where we could find one.” 

Those concerns were well founded: When Abia went into labour, she began bleeding profusely. 

Childbirth or death sentence? 

© UNFPA Yemen | Midwife Lena Al-Shurmani holds Abia’s newborn baby shortly after delivery.​

Six years of relentless conflict have made Yemen the site of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 20 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. 

The health system hangs together by a thread; only about half of all health facilities in Yemen are functional, and of those still operating, only 20 per cent provide maternal and child health services. A woman dies in childbirth every two hours, says UNFPA. 

The country’s looming famine could make things worse. Already, more than a million pregnant and breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished, a number likely to double as food insecurity rises. 

High-level pledging conference 

Yet life-saving humanitarian aid has been chronically underfunded. 

In 2020, more than 80 of the 180 UNFPA-supported health facilities closed due to funding gaps, causing more than 1 million women to lose access to critical care and safe childbirth. Preventable maternal deaths have been documented in districts where these facilities have been closed.  

On 1 March, the governments of Sweden and Switzerland and the United Nations are convening a virtual high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis. UNFPA is appealing for more than for $100 million to provide reproductive healthcare as well as services for survivors of violence and emergency relief through to the end of 2021. 

A stroke of luck 

In the end, Abia was lucky. 

After she began to haemorrhage during labour, her husband rushed to find Ms. Al-Shurmani. The midwife arrived at Abia’s side around 2AM in the morning. 

© UNFPA Yemen | The maternal health and protection needs of women and girls greatly outstrip available resources.​​​

“She lost consciousness many times during the delivery. I really feared for her life,” Ms. Al-Shurmani recalled. 

Fortunately, she was able to get the bleeding under control. 

Abia survived, and she delivered a healthy baby girl. “I am very grateful to the midwife,” she said later. “She travelled far in the middle of the night to save my life and my baby.” 

Last year, despite the tremendous funding shortfall, UNFPA was able to reach three million people with life-saving reproductive health and women’s protection services.  

Those efforts were supported by Canada, the Central Emergency Response Fund, the European Union Humanitarian, Iceland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Humanitarian Fund. 

Gender-based violence, child marriage 

Those services are only possible through the extraordinary efforts of women like Ms. Al-Shurmani. Trained by UNFPA to identify and assist survivors of gender-based violence, she works on an outreach team providing health services, psychosocial care and other support. 

“My work targets the most vulnerable and poor displaced families who live in camps and spontaneous settlements, especially as they are unable to reach health services”, she explained. 

Her work is often gruelling. “One of the main challenges I face is going out at night without a means of transportation, which forces me to walk with my companions on foot.” 

Emotional toll 

The job takes an emotional toll, as well. Ms. Al-Shurani has seen the vulnerabilities of women and girls increase dramatically. Child marriage rates are also rising as families struggle with poverty and insecurity. A recent UNFPA study across three governorates showed that one in five displaced girls, aged 10 to 19, were married. Among host communities, this number was one in eight. 

We not only need funding to sustain services but we urgently need to scale up to save the lives of women and girls…

Abia was one of those girls – she was married off a little over a year ago, at age 14. Ms. Al-Shurmani’s outreach team was able to provide her with psychosocial care, warm clothing, and referrals to emergency food and cash assistance.  

Tragically, that outreach team is the last one still in operation. Three other UNFPA-supported outreach teams in Ibb and Taizz have stopped providing services due to funding shortages. 

Some 350,000 women lost access to gender-based violence services in 2020, following the closure of 12 UNFPA-supported safe spaces. An estimated 6.1 million women and girls are in need of such services. 

“We not only need funding to sustain services but we urgently need to scale up to save the lives of women and girls,” said Nestor Owomuhangi, UNFPA’s Representative in Yemen. 

Syria: Economic decline, rising hunger and surging humanitarian needs

Citing “disturbing new food security data” published by the World Food Programme (WFP), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock stated that some 60 per cent of the population “do not have regular access to enough safe and nutritious food”.  

“The increase may be shocking, but it cannot be said to be surprising”, he said via video link.  

‘Desperate measures’ 

The UN official told the Council that average household expenses now exceed income by an estimated 20 per cent, leaving millions to resort to “desperate measures” to survive. 

More than 70 per cent of Syrians say they have taken on new debt, and are forced to sell assets and livestock. Meanwhile, parents are eating less so they can feed their children, who are now working instead of studying.  

“Those who have run out of options are simply going hungry”, he spelled out, flagging that more than half a million under-fives are suffering from the effects of stunting. 

Looking north 

While these problems are visible in many parts of the country, Mr. Lowcock drew attention to the northwest and northeast, where nutrition data show that up to one in three children in some areas, suffer from the irreversible development and learning impacts of stunting. 

“A doctor at a pediatrics hospital told me that of his 80 in-patient beds, half are occupied by malnourished children”, five of whom had died due to their condition, he said. 

Meanwhile, malnutrition has become so normal that parents cannot spot the signs in their own children, another doctor told the relief chief. 

Cross-border assistance 

Some physicians shared their concerns that cross-border aid into Syria’s northwest may be disrupted, prompting Mr. Lowcock to stress the importance of humanitarian access. 

“All humanitarian assistance that enters northwest Syria is delivered cross-border” and supports 2.4 million people monthly, he said. Without it, “the situation would go from terrible to catastrophic”.  

“When it comes to delivering life-saving aid to people in need, all channels should be made, and should be kept, available”, the UN official said, echoing the Secretary-General.  

Should the Security Council fail to extend its authorization for cross-border assistance in the future, he warned that it would “trigger suffering and loss of life potentially on a very large scale”. 

Turning to the northeast, Mr. Lowcock informed ambassadors that recent tensions have caused temporary disruptions in emergency assistance for hundreds of thousands of people. 

While the UN has continued to scale up crossline medical deliveries there, expanding its reach is dependent on approvals, improved security conditions and adequate funding.  

OCHA
Sixteen families live in a damaged school in Binish, a city in northwest Syria.

Protecting civilians 

He painted a picture of a series of “horrific bombings” that killed dozens and injured many others, a humanitarian worker killed while helping COVID-19-affected people on 16 February, and a hospital damaged when a missile struck an adjoining building,  

Every day, humanitarian workers in Syria deliver aid under the most difficult circumstances and at great personal risk, Mr. Lowcock said, spelling out: “They must be protected”. 

He informed the Council that the third draft of UN Strategic Framework for 2021-2023, which covers the UN country team’s agreed operational activities, is moving forward and noted those activities are complementary to the Humanitarian Response Plan “to save lives, enhance protection, and increase resilience and access to services”. 

“This is essential at a time when the economy continues to suffer severe decline, poverty and hunger are on the rise, and humanitarian needs are also increasing”, he concluded.

FROM THE FIELD: Millions of Yemenis facing ‘death sentence’

A woman in Aden, Yemen prepares food at a settlement for people who have fled their homes due to insecurity., by UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

The grim outlook for Yemen – ongoing conflict, economic collapse and major cuts in donor support for emergency aid – has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a significant drop in the amount of money sent home by the Yemeni diaspora, as global work opportunities dry up.

Cuts to life-saving food, water and health care programmes mean that four million fewer people are being helped every month with OCHA describing the current situation as “a death sentence for millions of families”.

Read OCHA’s overview of the challenges facing Yemen, and the action that is needed to save lives in the country, here.

UN to review deadly convoy attack in DR Congo which led to Italian Ambassador’s death

The UN’s Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) will be leading a detailed review into the incident, the agency said in an update on Tuesday. 

Forced to disembark 

Ambassador Luca Attanasio and his security escort, Vittorio Iacovacci, were among seven people travelling in two WFP vehicles from Goma, capital of North Kivu province, to visit one of the agency’s school feeding programmes in Rutshuru, approximately 40 kilometres away. 

The group left Goma at approximately 9:00 AM, local time, on Monday.  An armed group stopped the vehicles around 10:15 AM, forcing all the passengers to disembark.  One of the drivers, Mustapha Milambo, was killed at this time. 

“The remaining six passengers were then forced into the surrounding bush at gunpoint where there was an exchange of fire”, WFP said.   

“During the exchange of fire, the Italian Ambassador, Luca Attanasio and his security escort, Vittorio Iacovacci, were mortally injured and subsequently died.” 

The other passengers, all WFP staff, are safe and accounted for. They include the agency’s Deputy Country Director, Rocco Leone; School Feeding Programme Assistant, Fidele Zabandora; Security Officer, Mansour Rwagaza, and the second driver, Claude Mukata. 

Tribute to a brave staff member 

Mr. Milambo, the WFP driver, was buried on Tuesday, according to the agency’s Executive Director, David Beasley, who commemorated the murdered staff member in a post on Twitter. 

“Mustapha was laid to rest today in DRC, following yesterday’s attack that took his life”, he wrote.  “For 16 years, he served with commitment, dedication and bravery as a @WFP driver. He will be greatly missed by us all. Please keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers”. 

The UN Secretary-General has strongly condemned the attack and has called on the Congolese authorities to swiftly investigate this “heinous targeting” of a UN joint field mission, according to a statement issued on Monday by his Spokesperson. 

 

Climate crisis and economic shocks leave millions food insecure across Central America

According to WFP, the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic and years of extreme climate events have left almost 8 million people in Central America chronically hungry so far this year.

‘Long and slow’ recovery

“Considering the level of destruction and setbacks faced by those affected, we expect this to be a long and slow recovery”, said Miguel Barreto, WFP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

A WFP survey in January showed that around 15 percent of people indicated they were making “concrete plans” to migrate, as a result of livelihood losses and unemployment.

Moreover, 6.8 million people were hit hard by record-setting hurricanes Eta and Iota, which left them homeless or jobless as well as destroying over 200,000 hectares of staple food and cash crops across the four countries, and more than 10,000 hectares of coffee farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Hitting ‘rock bottom’

As COVID-19 has wracked food security in Central America, the number of households living in hunger during the pandemic, has nearly doubled in Guatemala compared to pre-pandemic numbers. In Honduras, it has increased by more than 50 percent.

 “Urban and rural communities in Central America have hit rock bottom”, said Mr. Barreto, stressing that “the COVID-19-induced economic crisis had already put food on the market shelves out of reach for the most vulnerable people when the twin hurricanes Eta and Iota battered them further.”

Central American communities have borne the brunt of a climate emergency, as years of drought and erratic weather have disrupted food production – especially staples like maize and beans, which depend heavily on regular rainfall.

Urgent funding needed

WFP is calling for international support to provide urgent humanitarian assistance in Central America and to invest in long-term development projects and national programmes that help vulnerable communities withstand future crises, especially those which recur.

The UN agency requires $47.3 million over the next six months to assist 2.6 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in 2021.

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