Yemen’s forsaken people surviving amid a catastrophic and endless conflict
The United Nations has made another appeal to donor countries for US$ 4.3 billion in aid. Last year, a similar appeal raised only half of what was requested. Meanwhile, fighting continues and last year’s truce, a distant memory. As the economy gets worse, child soldiers, a halved GDP and shortages remain.
Milan (AsiaNews) – The United Nations is seeking US$ 4.3 billion from donor countries to fund its aid plan for Yemen, a country plunged into extreme poverty by years of war.
Amid the indifference of the international community, UN efforts to find an agreement to end Yemen’s crisis have failed so far. Largely forgotten, civilians continue to die while children are still recruited despite campaigns to raise awareness about child soldiers.
The Houthis, an armed movement backed by Iran, are still pitted against the forces of the internationally recognised government backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, accused in the past of targeting schools and hospitals and killing civilians, including children.
Mediation efforts, which produced a short-lived truce last year, continue; but even if they should bear fruit, the population will still suffer for years to come from the consequences of the conflict and humanitarian disaster.
Crisis without a solution
Some hope was raised in April 2022 when the UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, appointed in September 2021, was able to get the parties to agree to a renewable two-month truce and engage in negotiations for a long-term agreement.
That same month, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) were able to get President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi to cede power after ten years in office to an eight-member Presidential Leadership Council (PLC).
Nevertheless, the truce finally expired on 2 October and has not been renewed since, while the parties have continued to fight, blaming each other for the failure of negotiations.
The war, which broke out in 2014, has killed nearly 400,000 people, including 11,000 children, causing what the UN describes as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had "devastating" effects.
Children will suffer the consequences of these multiple crises for decades. But in the meantime, most of the more than three million internally displaced live in abject poverty, on the brink of starvation and vulnerable to disease, not the least cholera.
Over the past eight years, the military situation has been a stalemate. The Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), control one third of the country’s territory but that is home to two thirds of the population.
Currently, the Governorate of Marib is the main battleground where government forces are putting up stiff resistance to the Iranian-backed rebels after the latter went on the offensive.
To stay in power, the Houthis have used harsh measures, violated human rights, and cracked down on any form of dissent through show trials, imprisonment, and executions, including children. They also continue to recruit child soldiers, a practice also used by their adversaries.
In Houthi-held areas, there is no freedom of expression, journalists are arrested and punished, women have few rights and freedoms, and require a male guardian and must submit to a compulsory dress code.
Divergent interests in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
On the government side, the situation is not much better. The Saudi-led Arab coalition fractured in recent years as the interests of its two main partners, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, began to diverge, especially over the separatist movement in southern Yemen.
This has had serious consequences on the ground, especially after the United States, first under Republican Donald Trump, then his successor Democrat Joe Biden, began to progressively disengage from the conflict.
This shift is best exemplified by the Houthi attack against Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, in January 2022, a blow that pushed the Saudis and the Emiratis to realise that they could no longer count on Washington's protection.
Multiple missile and drone attacks by the pro-Iranian rebels against Saudi Arabia, including strategically important oil installations, brought this further home.
Meanwhile, the creation of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), which was designed to better coordinate Saudi and Emirati action against the Houthis, proved unequal to its task as the new body became mired in factional in-fighting, a situation that has not helped the process of dialogue and mediation.
The consequences of war
Years of violence and tensions have inflicted unspeakable suffering on a country that is now socially and economically crushed with its population pushed to the brink of what can be humanly tolerated.
Making matters worse, its main ports – Hodeida for example – are unusable from heavy fighting, making trade, imports, and aid distribution nearly impossible.
China seems to be one of the few players to have benefitted, boosting its presence and promoted its interests, especially in Aden and its surroundings as part of its new Silk Road project.
Since the war started, Yemen’s GDP has been halved, leaving its people with a per capita income of about US$ 600 — less than half of what it was before the war. Amid this disaster, some 1.2 million public servants have not been paid or received only half a month’s salary every few months.
Last but least, the country’s environment has suffered as much as its economy with a series of natural disasters that have had a serious impact, in particular large-scale floods that swamped entire regions. Experts warn that this trend is likely to get worse.
Most Yemenis are at the end of their tether, desperate and gloomy. Even if a peace deal were struck in the near future, they would still be caught between socio-economic devastation and a hostile environment.
In recent months, UN special envoy Hans Grundberg has multiplied his efforts to bring the parties closer together with regular trips to Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, and even Russia.
Direct talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia could be a first step, marking the recognition and legitimacy the pro-Iranian movement has been seeking after past secret contacts. Yet none of this can be done bypassing the PLC, which represents Yemen’s internationally recognised government,
The United Nations' call for more than US$ 4 billion in aid is a sign that the humanitarian crisis is getting worse at a time when resources are getting scarcer, especially following other global crises such as the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. An appeal for a similar amount in 2022 reached only 52 per cent of its target.
Meanwhile, Yemenis continue to suffer while their leaders seem increasingly remote, less interested in reaching a compromise.
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