In the southern city of Taiz, 11-month-old Ameer Hellal receives WFP supplementary food for malnutrition. Photo: WFP/Albaraa Mansoor
  • by Alexander Kozul-Wright (Geneva)
  • Interpress service

While Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths noted that the UN had received 31 commitments during the February 30, 2023 conference in Geneva, the amount pledged is still far short of the organization’s $4.3 billion target.

The conflict in Yemen started in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels – who represent the country’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority – seized the capital, Sanaa. The war intensified in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the government against the Houthis.

Due to repeated Saudi-led bombing campaigns and deep territorial divisions (half of the country is still under Houthi control in the north and the other half under government control in the south), Yemen’s economy has stalled.

Last year, exogenous factors also led to sharp falls in the Yemeni rial against the US dollar, pushing inflation up to 45 percent. Elsewhere, food prices rose by 58 percent. By 2022, 13 million people in Yemen relied on the UN World Food Program for staples.

So far, the conflict has killed more than 375,000 people, sixty percent from indirect causes (mainly from malnutrition and disease). The war has also devastated the country’s civil and physical infrastructure, including its oil sector – Yemen’s only source of foreign currency.

Last year, warring parties agreed on a UN-brokered ceasefire. Although it expired in October, the six-month ceasefire led to a reduction in casualties. It also allowed commercial traffic to flow through the port of Hodeida, increasing the flow of goods and aid into the country.

A small improvement in food security at the end of last year meant that two million fewer Yemenis were suffering from acute hunger. The number of people in famine-like conditions also dropped from 161,000 to zero. But progress is still fragile.

Yemen continues to rely on foreign aid. “More than 21 million people, or two-thirds of the country’s population, will need humanitarian assistance by 2023,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Among those in need, more than 17 million are considered to be living below Yemen’s poverty line. Meanwhile, an estimated 4.5 million Yemenis are internally displaced, largely due to climate change-related events.

According to the UN, Yemen is “very vulnerable” to the effects of rising global temperatures (especially dry weather). In recent years, severe drought has exacerbated food shortages caused by the war.

Yemen is still in need of external support

The UN’s funding target of US$4.3 billion is almost double what it received last year. Going forward, dependence on external aid will be particularly acute in 2023 due to limited oil exports linked to Houthi attacks on government-held oil terminals last October.

This week’s conference took place as the country’s rival factions agreed to an informal cessation of hostilities. Efforts are underway to declare a lasting peace after the parties failed to extend their UN-backed peace deal last year.

“We have a real opportunity to change Yemen’s trajectory and move towards peace by renewing and extending the ceasefire,” Guterres stated at the pledging event, alongside Sweden and Switzerland.

The meeting was attended by officials from around the world, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. In his speech, Blinken urged donors to increase their contributions, citing last year’s funding shortfall.

The UN missed its funding target for Yemen by US$2 billion last year. Blinken also called on the international community to help restore Yemen’s economy, suggesting that this would “reduce human suffering in the long term.”

“Large-scale investment will be needed to rebuild Yemen’s physical infrastructure. However, securing peace remains the top priority. “Without it, millions will continue to face extreme levels of poverty, hunger and suffering,” Blinken added.

At the same time, the UN Secretary-General warned that aid funding would not provide a panacea for Yemen.

“Humanitarian aid is a Band-Aid. It saves people’s lives but cannot solve the conflict in itself.” IPS UN agency report

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service