Humanitarian crisis threatens political transition in Yemen: UN official

Bassem Aly , Monday 1 Oct 2012

UN humanitarian coordinator slams international community's undue focus on Yemen's political process at expense of country's dire humanitarian situation

A child walking in the streets of an extremely-poor residential area in the war-torn Yemen (Photo: Reuters)

"The international community directs greater focus on the political and security situation in Yemen; no one is concerned with the deteriorating, humanitarian aspect of the scene," Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN humanitarian and resident coordinator, said at a Monday press conference organised by the UN Information Centre in Cairo.  

Ahmed pointed out that, despite the negotiated political transition, Yemen is facing a growing humanitarian crisis caused by political instability, which has led to sharp increases in food insecurity, malnutrition and a breakdown of basic services.

As a result, he added, government institutions, local NGOs and international organisations were working side by side to respond to the crisis in a bid to enhance the country's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance according to "international standards" and provide a societal basis for development through which Yemen can withstand future crises.

During his presentation, Ahmed referred to some of Yemen's domestic problems, the negative influences of which citizens continue to suffer from on a daily basis. The information was collected by the UN Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in Yemen in recent months.

First, food insecurity has doubled over the last two years. Some 44 per cent of the population – over 10 million people – are food insecure, while 5 million are in need of immediate lifesaving assistance, including 966,848 children under five years of age who are acutely malnourished.  

Second, the collapse of public services and basic infrastructure (schools, water resources, sanitation and health centres), especially in war-affected areas, will lead to a further increase in phenomena such as child labour, female-headed households and communicable diseases.

Third, inter-tribal positioning and fighting has led to some 40,000 new internally displaced people (IDPs) in the north, while new conflicts in the south have led to the displacement of almost 50,000 people. As armed groups are occupying schools, including Al-Qaeda militants, Yemeni children cannot easily earn their basic education.

Newly displaced people in the north and south are increasing the pressure on communities. Most of the new arrivals have to use plastic sheeting to set up makeshift accommodations, which has led to numerous social problems.

What's more, half of the population does not have access to safe water due to chronic war shortages, as 30 percent of the water, sanitation and sewage systems are not functioning.

Arab, international action

"The government promised financial support to the country, but it is insufficient to meet the demands of the people", Ahmed said.

On 6 May, 98 individuals from 85 multinational NGOs met in Cairo for a conference organised by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The conference urged all international parties concerned about the Yemeni humanitarian dilemma to prioritise life-saving measures with increased operational space and develop a longer term strategy to help the country's government in eroding the roots of poverty and deprivation.

Ahmed argued that none of these recommendations has been implemented "in reality."  However, he praised the efforts of Saudi Arabia as the largest donor to Yemen around the world.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia had pledged $3.25 billion in aid at a meeting of the 'Friends of Yemen,' held in Riyadh in May during which a total of $4 billion was pledged. Yemen was promised international donations worth $6.4 billion during two donor conferences in Riyadh in May and September.  

"We will hold another donor conference after 2014 to raise the rest of the needed funds," Wael Zakout, the World Bank's country manager for Yemen, told AFP.  

On 28 September, during the second 'Friends of Yemen' meeting in New York, Yemeni President Abdelrabuh Mansur Hadi said he had been promised international donations worth $1.4 billion, according to the Yemeni News Agency (SABA).

The agency reported that Hadi believed that support for Yemen by donor countries and organisations would contribute to the success of the process of peaceful transition of power and the transitional phase, noting that the economic problem in Yemen accounted for 70 per cent of the country's challenges.

Deadly anti-regime protests swept the Arab Peninsula's poorest country last year, finally forcing former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in February after 33 years in power.

Hadi took the constitutional oath as president in February. He stood as the sole candidate to replace Saleh in a power transfer deal brokered by Gulf neighbours backed by Washington and a UN Security Council resolution.

The pact makes Hadi the head of state and a key figure in a proposed two-year political transition that envisions parliamentary elections, a new constitution and a restructuring of the military in which Saleh's son and nephew still hold power.  

"It's not likely that Yemenis will revolt for a second time because of their socioeconomic crises, since many revolutionary figures have taken up positions within the new political system", Ahmed told Ahram Online.

Ahmed went on to say that financial problems did not represent an "unprecedented phenomenon" for the Yemeni people. Rather, they were the result of a series of accumulated and failed policies inherited from the former regime.

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