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Saturday, February 24, 2024
The writer is Country Director, Oxfam in Yemen
SA’ANA, Yemen, Mar 30 2023 (IPS) - As Yemen enters its ninth year of war, its people are facing a humanitarian crisis of horrifying proportions. In my role as Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director, I have witnessed firsthand the effects of the humanitarian catastrophe, worsened by economic collapse and sharp increases in the cost of food and other essential commodities.
Over 17 million people are experiencing high levels of food insecurity, 75% of whom are women and children. The situation is further aggravated by the global food crisis, leaving millions more at risk of catastrophic hunger.
The time for global action is now.
The current conflict has its roots in the 2011 Arab Spring, when mass protests led to the ousting of long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh. His successor, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, struggled to address a range of issues, including corruption, unemployment, and food insecurity. In 2014, the Houthi rebel movement, seized control of large parts of the country, including the capital, Sana’a.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, backed by the United States and other Western powers, launched military operations against the Houthis to restore Hadi’s government. The ensuing conflict has led to widespread destruction, civilian casualties, and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The war has also been characterized by numerous violations of international humanitarian law, such as indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure, the use of child soldiers, and the imposition of constraints that hinder the delivery of aid.
This past Sunday, March 26, marked eight years since the conflict in Yemen escalated. The expiration of a temporary UN-brokered truce in October has left the country in a precarious state. While the truce has largely held, the political and economic future of Yemen remains uncertain.
The UN estimated in 2021 that there had already been 337,000 deaths due to the conflict and associated issues like lack of access to food, water, and healthcare. Millions have been displaced and more than 21.6 million people—two-thirds of the population—require humanitarian assistance and protection.
Despite the severity of the crisis, international donors have committed only about a third of the necessary funds for the past few years.
The importance of international aid in humanitarian emergencies cannot be overstated. Such aid provides a lifeline to affected populations, helping them meet their basic needs, rebuild their lives, and restore hope for the future. In times of crisis, international aid can mean the difference between life and death.
Moreover, it can help prevent the spread of conflict and instability by addressing root causes, such as poverty, inequality, and social unrest. As global citizens, we have a moral obligation to support those in need and to promote peace and stability worldwide.
I have seen the exhaustion and desperation of the Yemeni people firsthand. Rising food prices and unpaid salaries mean even basic foodstuffs have been pushed beyond the reach of many Yemeni families.
We cannot let donors turn their backs on one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. It is also past time for world leaders to exert real pressure to bring all sides back to the table so they can bring a permanent end to the conflict. They must also ensure that the voices of the most marginalized—most notably women women—are included and heard.
Yemen’s cost of living crisis is compounded by the worsening global food situation. The country imports 90% of its food, with 42% of its wheat coming from Ukraine. Importers warn that rising global costs will challenge their ability to secure wheat imports into Yemen, potentially pushing millions towards starvation.
The impact on households is profound, forcing families to adopt negative coping mechanisms—such as eating lower quality foods, limiting portion sizes, going into debt to buy food, and borrowing from friends and neighbors—to survive.
As a result, 2.2 million Yemeni children under the age of five are now acutely malnourished.
The international response has been insufficient. Despite the growing need, the World Food Program has been forced to reduce the amount of aid it provides. A high-level pledging event earlier this year co-hosted by the UN and the governments of Sweden and Switzerland concluded with a collective commitment of under a third of the amount needed for 2023 ($1.2 billion of the $4.3 billion required).
At Oxfam, we work in Yemen to provide basic services like clean water, sanitation, cash, and establishing solar energy at household and community levels. However, more must be done.
I call upon the international community to provide adequate funding for life-saving aid, a rescue economic package to stabilize the economy and put money into people’s pockets, and increased efforts to negotiate a lasting comprehensive peace in Yemen.
The situation in Yemen is dire, and the international community must no longer remain passive. As we recall the grim anniversary of eight years of conflict, we must keep in mind the millions of Yemenis who continue to suffer.
It is time for world leaders to come together and take action to bring an end to the conflict and to provide the necessary resources for the people of Yemen to rebuild their lives.
IPS UN Bureau
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