GP Insights

GP Insights # 438, 15 November 2020

Yemen: The UN warns of a humanitarian catastrophe, once again!
Rashmi Ramesh

What happened?
On 11 November, the UN Security Council held a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. In a strong statement, UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock remarked that "Yemenis are not going hungry, they are being starved. The parties to the conflict, the Security Council members, donors, humanitarian organizations and others should do everything to stop this." The Chief of the World Food Programme highlighted the impending famine in Yemen and the need to step up relief measures. 

The briefing emphasized on five aspects- protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, the economy and progress towards peace. It also emphasized the UN Secretary General's call for "global ceasefire", especially in Yemen.

What is the background?
First, the fund crunch. Lowcock informed the Security Council that the UN had received only 45 per cent of the amount it appealed for Yemen in 2020. While it had received USD 3 billion in 2019, it has received USD 1.5 billion so far in 2020. The pandemic has severely affected the relief measures at a very crucial point.

Second, the non-stop proxy war and failing negotiations. Iran and Saudi Arabia-led coalition have been waging a proxy war in Yemen. Aimed at securing regional domination, this has reached a state of stalemate. As a result, Yemen remains embroiled in violence that is cyclical in nature. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen told the UNSC that the "relatively calm situation" may soon come to an end, as there is a probability of escalation of violence shortly. Though mediation led by the Special Envoy is ongoing, the road to peace is a tough and painstaking; this may take longer. This implies that Yemen's economic and humanitarian woes will only increase.

Third, the failure of domestic actors to reach an agreement. The internationally recognized government and the rebels have failed to negotiate and end the conflict. Domestic actors have failed to form a government free from external influence. The internationally recognized government is a puppet under the hands of Arab coalition; while Iran and Hezbollah control the Houthis.

Fourth, the indifference of the international community. Yemen is not the first one to face such a crisis. Rwanda, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and many others, have all been victims of long-lasting conflicts that have affected millions. However, the indifference and insensitivity of the international community have remained consistent. Winning battles and wars are a priority for states, rather than addressing the consequences of those actions.

What does it mean?
First, the looming famine. In 2017, when Yemen was at the brink of famine, the international community rose to the occasion and contributed to the UN's initiatives, averting a humanitarian disaster just in time. However, in 2020, the World Food Programme is facing a shortage of funds and struggling to provide for 13 million people in Yemen; nearly 24 million require assistance to survive. Continuing war, COVID-19 and other diseases, global economic downturn, floods, locust invasion, and reduced funds are the multiple factors playing out simultaneously this year, making the situation even worse.

Second, children are the most vulnerable. According to a UN Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) malnutrition analysis conducted in southern Yemen, acute malnutrition cases aged below five have increased by 10 per cent in 2020. Clearly, children falling under the age of five are in the most vulnerable category; and an entire generation is at risk.

Third, the lack of collective responsibility. On 15 September, the UN reprimanded the states that promised but failed to contribute. After being called out by the UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator, Arab coalition countries except UAE contributed to the relief funds. Lack of collective responsibility is clearly visible among the parties involved in the conflict. At the same time, other states fail to stand up to the cause and address the unfolding biggest humanitarian crisis.

Lastly, the multiple reports, analysis and warnings issued by the UN will not influence major changes on the ground. All factors remaining unchanged, Yemen will continue to face hardships in 2021 and the coming years. However, the primary aim of the UN will be to avert the famine, which, according to reports, might occur in early 2021.

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