ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Yemen, 50,000 people are already starving. Sixteen million could go hungry this year. Those were the grim facts presented today at a U.N. donor conference. Yemen has been devastated by a war that began in 2014 - fighting between the rebel Houthi government and pro-government forces led by Saudi Arabia. Now President Biden says U.S. support for the Saudi-led offensive will end. And Secretary of State Tony Blinken has promised an additional $191 million in humanitarian aid.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Well, we're going to go to Yemen now and speak to someone deeply familiar with the crisis there. Jan Egeland has served in the U.N. He is currently secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and he joins us on the line from Sana'a, Yemen.
Jan Egeland, welcome.
JAN EGELAND: Thank you.
KELLY: You are there, I know, to assess the situation. Can you tell us where you've been able to go, what you're seeing, what you're hearing?
EGELAND: Well, during the last 48 hours, I have traveled from the capital, Sana'a, in the north to two provinces called Amran and Hajjah. It was heartbreaking to see children now having starved for so long that they were dying from all of the associated diseases. We are seeing a relentless countdown to a possible famine that the world hasn't seen since Ethiopia in the 1980s.
KELLY: I was looking at pictures of you over the weekend, visiting with families. It looks like they're living in tents and shacks amid rubble. Describe the situation. Describe - what do they actually have to eat?
EGELAND: Well, many do not have nearly anything at all now. One community of families had sat next to a (inaudible).
KELLY: Next to a garbage dump, you're saying. Go on.
EGELAND: Garbage dump with a pile leftover food that the poor people of Sana'a throw away. This is subhuman conditions that I haven't seen anywhere to that extent. Then going further north, in one of the very few clinics that receive starved children, I met a mother with a girl, 9 years old. She looked 3 or 4 - beautiful girl. Khadja (ph) is her name. And the mother said, I want you to tell our story. And the story is that we had 14 children, now five of that. And Khadja is not able to walk anymore.
KELLY: The phone line is cutting in and out a little bit. So I just want to repeat what you are telling us. You're telling us about this girl. She is 9 years old, and you're saying she can no longer walk. She's dying.
EGELAND: She is. Hopefully at this clinic, they can now feed both the mother and this 9-year-old, but the rest of the family were elsewhere. In a place where there is very little aid, there is little access, there is no work, what needs to happen in Yemen are really three things. The donor conference needs to come up with $4 billion.
KELLY: With $4 billion, you're asking.
EGELAND: A lot of money but much less than is - what is spent on the senseless war, which is my second point. We need a famine prevention cease-fire, and we need access to all of these conflict and disaster zones where we do not get permits to operate as we should. Just going from two towns here now with the capital, Sana'a, to Hajjah, we had to cross nine checkpoints. And at any of those, you know, you can be held back for any amount of time. It is too difficult for aid groups to operate. We have too little funding, and there is an active war in a starvation area.
KELLY: That is Jan Egeland. He is secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to us from Sana'a, Yemen, about a truly grim situation underway there.
Mr. Egeland, thank you for your time.
EGELAND: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
KELLY: After we spoke today, Egeland put out a statement expressing disappointment in the money pledged to Yemen so far - less than half the $4 billion he says the country desperately needs.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.