We need to remember the crisis in Yemen is not over
Martin Griffiths Ann Linde Ignazio Cassis
The war in Ukraine is now at the top of the world’s agenda – as it should be. It is against the United Nations charter and the consequences for the people of Ukraine are extraordinarily brutal.
But we must not forget other parts of the world where people face relentless violence and suffering and urgently need international support. Yemen, one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, is a case in point. War has been raging for more than seven years, and January was a record-shattering month for civilian casualties. Yemen’s economy lies in ruins, and basic services are collapsing.
Last year, we warned that hunger was surging in Yemen. Thanks to $2.3bn in international donor support, the worst-case scenario was averted.
But keeping hunger at bay is not a one-off effort if the underlying causes remain, as they do in Yemen. The crisis in Yemen is man-made, and the most effective humanitarian measure is to stop the fighting. The only sustainable relief for the Yemeni people is a negotiated political settlement that ends the conflict and lays the foundation for the society the people of Yemen want. We fully support the efforts of the UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg in this pursuit.
While we work to get there, more humanitarian relief and greater support to rebuild the economy and basic services are what the world can and must do to help.
On March 16, the UN, Switzerland and Sweden will together host an event where countries can pledge their support for the people of Yemen. The humanitarian response planned by the UN and non-governmental organisations will require nearly $4.3bn in 2022 to help 17.2 million people.
With the low levels of funding available today, humanitarian agencies have nevertheless no other choice than to cut back assistance. Two-thirds of major UN aid programmes have already been reduced or closed.
In the coming weeks, food rations could be discontinued for eight million people and reduced for another five million people. The consequences of this will be further exacerbated by the impact of the Ukraine crisis on food prices, with Yemen being one of the countries most dependent on food imports from the area.
Women and girls are among the most impacted by the crisis in Yemen and will be among the hardest hit when humanitarian organisations are forced to scale down. Protection against gender-based violence will be slashed, and almost one million women stand to lose access to reproductive health services. Already, a woman dies every two hours from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in Yemen.
The aid operation is grinding to a halt when it should instead be gearing up against this wave of humanitarian need. With more support, it can be done.
Last year, around 200 humanitarian organisations – most of them Yemeni non-governmental organisations – reached more than 11 million people across the country with food, clean water, healthcare, protection, shelter and education each month. This life-saving operation was possible because donors, even as they faced financial problems at home, generously stepped up. We need to step up again.
More money will of course not fix everything. Delivering aid in Yemen is extremely difficult. Access to people is constrained by flare-ups of fighting, administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, restrictions on the movement of aid workers and attempts to interfere with aid delivery. But by working closely together, the UN, donors and other stakeholders have made important progress. We must continue to push for a better environment for aid agencies, so that the UN and its partners can continue to deliver.
Even as aid programmes have continued, Yemen’s deteriorating economy and collapsing basic services have continued to push more people into misery. The economic crisis needs special attention beyond the delivery of emergency relief.
There are measures the international community can take right now to mitigate the impact of these trends. These include lifting import restrictions and investing in early recovery.
Ensuring the regular payment of public sector salaries and incentives is also critical, both to prevent people from falling deeper into poverty today, and to preserve the country’s civil service in the future – without it, it’s hard to imagine any recovery and development take hold.
Diplomatic, humanitarian and development support is needed to pave the way for sustainable peace in Yemen. As other crises in the world rapidly grow in scale and rise on the international agenda, the message we need to send to the people of Yemen is this: We continue to stand with you.