Yemen abandoned

Ahmed Mustafa, Tuesday 27 Sep 2022

Extending the six-month-old truce is not improving conditions for the 24 million Yemenis facing famine in one of the gravest humanitarian crises in history, reports Ahmed Mustafa

photo: AFP

The UN and other parties directly involved in the Yemeni conflict have hailed the renewal of the truce between the Saudi-backed legitimate government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia, which took place earlier this month. The UN-brokered truce, agreed in April, is the longest standing in more than seven years of war that have ravaged the poor country. It is said to have reduced fighting between warring factions by up to 60 per cent.

But the truce has not stopped the disastrous humanitarian situation from deteriorating further, with more than 24 million of the 30 million population facing the risk of famine.

Humanitarian organisations and UN aid agencies have had to scale down their efforts in Yemen due to lack of funds. Many previous international pledges to help the victims of the conflict there were not fulfilled.

“It looks like the world has already abandoned Yemen,” as one global humanitarian worker in Beirut told Al- Ahram Weekly. “You see billions pouring into the Ukraine war that started a few months ago, while after eight years of war involving many local and regional parties Yemen is not getting attention any more. Though much assistance to Ukraine is in form of destructive arms aggravating the humanitarian situation, global support is incomparable to the Yemen crisis, especially in humanitarian aid and taking refugees.”

Last week, the UN Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that, more than seven years into the war in Yemen, “some 19 million people – six out of 10 – are acutely food insecure, an estimated 160,000 people are facing catastrophe, and 538,000 children are severely malnourished.”

The council was focusing on conflict-induced food insecurity and the risk of famine in Ethiopia, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. Executive Director of the UN World Food Program (WFP) David Beasley told the UN Security Council that the Ukraine war is stoking inflation in Yemen, which is 90 per cent reliant on food imports. The WFP hopes to “provide aid to about 18 million people, but its costs have risen 30 per cent this year to 2.6 billion dollars. As a result, it has been forced to cut back, so Yemenis this month are getting only two thirds of their previous rations”, as Beasley said.

The Yemeni famine featured more in speeches and statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the last few weeks as he exposed the “hypocrisy of the West” that claimed Ukrainian grain export deal with Russia was meant to provide emergency food to help impoverished countries like Yemen. Putin and other Russian officials said that almost all shipments out of Ukraine went to European destinations, not to Yemen or Somalia.

“Putin might not care about Yemenis dying of malnutrition, and he mainly wanted to attack the West. But unfortunately he’s right about the fact that the West is not thinking of children dying of food shortages or even innocent Yemenis killed with Western or Iranian arms sent into the war-torn country,” the Beirut-based aid worker said.

The UN hopes to renew the truce every two months, but the main aim of the truce is to be conducive to political settlement that ends the war. No efforts to start a serious dialogue to end the conflict have borne fruit yet. In the meantime, ordinary Yemenis continue to suffer under the worst food and health situation in the world.

Mary O’ Keefe wrote on the website of the Organization for World Peace this week that two thirds of all major UN projects in the country were forced to scale down or close entirely due to funding shortages. “A devastating eight million people also saw their food rations cut in half earlier in the year, with further reductions on the way,” she wrote. War already destroyed Yemen’s economy, and external players focusing on military activity sideline the economic crisis. “Exacerbating these conditions is the economic crisis that the country is facing. When food is available, it is often completely unaffordable to those who need it the most. According to the World Bank, the Yemeni economy has shrunk by an estimated 8.5 per cent in 2020, and an additional two per cent in 2021. These factors have resulted in a massive rise in the cost of everyday commodities, with bread costing six times more than usual. Even when food is available, it is still out of the reach of many Yemeni people,” O’Keefe wrote.

Warring factions and their external backers blame each other for the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen. The truce allowed commercial flights from the capital Sanaa, controlled by the rebel Houthi militia. More fuel shipments went through Hudayda Port to the rebel-controlled areas of Yemen. But the Houthi militia, emboldened by their backer Iran, is not willing to engage in a serious political process unless all restrictions are lifted.

Meanwhile the internationally recognised government accuses the Houthi rebels of using the truce to regroup and not being keen on ending the conflict to alleviate the pain of Yemeni people. By the end of last month, fifteen human rights groups called on the Houthis to “immediately open vital roads in and around Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, and restore freedom of movement for all civilians to prevent further deterioration of the already grave humanitarian crisis in Taiz,” according to their statement.

Taiz is a stark example of the impact of the war on Yemenis’ lives. It has been under Houthi blockade since 2015, and many local factions – like the Islah Party (Muslim Brotherhood), which has a strong presence there – are exploiting the blockade and the people’s plight for political gains. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are exploiting the lull in fighting due to the truce to reclaim areas and influence they have lost.

With hopes of reviving Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers fading, the prospect of a political solution in Yemen is declining, and with that the severity of the humanitarian crisis increases.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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