Conflict Alerts # 341, 4 March 2021
In the news
On 1 March, a “Virtual High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Situation in Yemen” was held by the UN. It was co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland. More than 100 governments and donors participated in the conference but the amount pledged was highly short of requirements and even less than that raised in 2020. In the three sessions of the conference, discussions took place around the major objectives of the conference. These included raising awareness and mobilising resources for severe and deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the imminent risk of large-scale famine, and the past success and present challenges of humanitarian partners.
Issues at large
First, the looming famine in the country. The danger of the longest famine in many decades has been materializing in Yemen. The president of UNSC had stated in August 2017, warning the world of the emerging food crisis in Yemen. In March 2018, the Council, yet again recognized that the coming famine would not be very deadly. The numbers indicated that 3.4 million people were pushed to dependency on humanitarian aid within a year. On 12th February 2021, four agencies of the UN (FAO, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO) indicated that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021. 4,00,000 of these could die if they do not receive urgent treatment. According to the latest UN data, more than 16 million Yemenis (about half the population of the country) will face hunger this year, and nearly 50,000 are already starving to death in famine-like conditions.
Second, the failure of internal actors in resolving the humanitarian aid issue. The Houthi rebels have been posing obstructions in aid. Approval delays, violence against the staff, interference with an assessment of need, and usage of aid access to extort concessions and money are common practices utilized by the Houthis. Since May-June 2020, the Houthis have blocked 262 containers at Hodeida Port hindering the delivery of PPE kits and transport of commercial vessels carrying fuel for revenue. All this makes food, hospital operations, and water supply obscure for the Yemenis, and leaving them highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Even the Coalition-backed Yemeni government has recently issued numerous bureaucratic restrictions on aid agencies creating unnecessary obstacles and delaying aid deliverance.
Third, the lack of international attention to Yemen. The UN has called the situation in Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis and yet the international community has failed to provide Yemen with the deserved attention and help. The focus on Yemen comes only in the context of a proxy war between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran. The few Yemeni journalists identify two major reasons for the ignorance by global media. These are that Yemen does not pose a direct threat to the western countries and there are no “waves” of Yemeni refugees crossing the Mediterranean. International media and members of the community have pushed Yemen on the side-lines.
External solutions to the issue will fail unless the Houthis and the Yemeni government lift unnecessary restrictions on humanitarian aid. Yet, efforts from the UNSC to identify senior Houthi and government officials involved in obstruction of aid, and taking appropriate actions on them might help the situation. However, no permanent solution can be expected until the conflict itself is resolved. The international community needs to act tactfully and move towards a political solution.