The situation in Yemen has devolved into an “overarching humanitarian priority”, one that will require urgent and drastic action from the world’s leading economies to save a nation in crisis.
This is the assessment that the United Nations Security Council heard from its outgoing special envoy to Yemen, where a seven-year conflict and devastated economy have left a nation in ruin. Martin Griffiths, recently appointed to the role of UN humanitarian relief coordinator, warned that five million people are “one step away from succumbing to famine and the diseases that go with it”, with an additional ten million “right behind them”.
The harrowing situation in Yemen cannot be understated.
According to data from UNICEF, over 80% of Yemen’s population is in need of humanitarian aid, and only one in three have access to running water. The few underfunded medical facilities are often forced to turn away those in need due to a lack of supplies, whilst preventable diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, and measles cause the death of at least one child every ten minutes.
Approximately two-thirds of the nation, roughly 20 million people, rely on humanitarian aid in their day-to-day lives. Over 2 million children are acutely malnourished, and many are maimed or killed daily in a war that has killed at least 233,000 people.
Griffiths, who was UN envoy in Yemen for the past three years and is to be replaced in that position by Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, told the UN Security Council it was time to call for a definitive ceasefire and end of “profiteering” to “create the space needed to address the drivers of the crisis.”
The economic collapse in Yemen is driving humanitarian needs. Some 5 million Yemenis are just one step away from famine.
I briefed the Security Council on what the aid operation is doing to respond & how the world can help – including by addressing the root causes of the crisis.
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) August 23, 2021
One can trace many of Yemen’s issues to the collapse of the nation’s economy and the severe depreciation of its currency that have resulted from its brutal civil war. Its GDP has dropped 40% since the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels seized power in 2015, whilst broad restrictions and harshly enforced blockades by Saudi-led coalition forces have exacerbated the nation’s economic challenges.
Legal and policy director of Human Rights Watch, James Ross, stated in 2017 that the “military strategy in Yemen has been increasingly built around preventing desperately needed aid and essential goods from reaching civilians, risking millions of lives,” adding that “the Security Council should urgently sanction Saudi and other coalition leaders responsible for blocking food, fuel, and medicine, causing hunger, sickness, and death.”
UN Secretary-General for the Middle East, Khaled Mohamed Khiari, has also highlighted these economic challenges to the UN Security Council this month, calling on “the government of Yemen to urgently allow the entry of all essential commercial supplies… all parties must prioritise civilian needs and abstain from weaponizing the economy, particularly in light of the critical humanitarian situation in the country.”
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Widespread fuel shortages have compounded Yemen’s humanitarian and economic crisis. The port of Hodeidah, the would-be epicenter for humanitarian supplies to enter the nation, has remained largely shut in the years since the Houthi rebels assumed control. The port has received just three ships carrying oil supplies since July, whilst four more supply ships remain in a holding area managed by anti-Houthi coalition forces.
The effects of these fuel shortages are tangible for the poverty-stricken population, where wait times to fill gas canisters for cooking are up to a month-long and all but one fuel station in Houthi-controlled regions are now closed.
More than 6 years of violence in Yemen has made water a luxury.#WorldWaterWeek
— UN Humanitarian (@UNOCHA) August 23, 2021
The humanitarian disaster in Yemen has been raging since the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was overran by Houthi-rebel forces, leading to a brutal civil war supported by international military campaigns that have shattered Yemen society and devastated its people.
Famine isn’t just a food problem. It’s a symptom of a much deeper collapse. In many ways, it is all of Yemen’s problems rolled into one, and it demands a comprehensive response
Surely, the only road out of Yemen’s harrowing situation will be an end to its devastating conflict. Whilst peace and prosperity appear a world away for one of the poorest nations on the planet, there are some small signs of hope going forward.
In February, US President Joe Biden declared an end to America’s support for the military campaign against the Houthi forces, also attempting to step up diplomacy in the region by naming US Diplomat Timothy Lenderking as US Special envoy for Yemen. When announcing the decision, Biden said he hoped the measures would “end the war in Yemen, a war which has created humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
In a statement announcing the end of the US military campaigns in the nation, the US State Department said “now is the time to stop the fighting and enable Yemenis to shape a more peaceful, prosperous future for their country.”
The President stated that US forces would work to stabilise the dynamic that has led to the crisis, declaring an end to “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
Whilst halting US backing of Saudi-led coalition military campaigns, Biden indicated that the US would “continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people,” remarks that, according to Reuters, were welcomed by Saudi-Arabia’s state news agency.
Earlier this year, the United Nations-led humanitarian operation warned that unless $4 billion in aid is swiftly raised in 2021, the nation would succumb to the worst famine seen in decades. This target appears ominous considering the operation received just $1.9 billion in 2020, under half of what it received the year before, whilst the requirements of the Yemen crisis only deepen.
The UN says that the funding it is seeking will provide urgent aid to over 16 million people across Yemen and save five million lives. But more than that is required to move past the current situation. There is a desperate need to end the conflict and jumpstart the recovery of the devastated economy if the country is ever to attain any form of long-term prosperity.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Drought and Famine Stricken Area. Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay.