A conference to raise funds for Yemen is taking place in Geneva, amidst what the UN describes as “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” reports the BBC.
The crisis is the result of a conflict between the Saudi-led coalition, supporting Yemen’s government, and Houthi rebels – the Iran-backed Zaidi-Shia followers.
The U.S. aids the coalition, and in November approved a nearly $1.3 billion rearming program for the Saudis. “Foreign Policy” magazine reports that there have been roughly 750 U.S. aerial refueling missions.
During their campaigns against the ousted Hadi government, Houthis initially used civil disobedience. After the Yemeni government’s decision in July 2014 to increase fuel prices, Houthi leaders organized massive rallies in the capital Sana’a to protest the decision and to demand resignation of the incumbent government for “state-corruption.”
These protests developed into armed insurgency in 2014-2015. Following the Saudi-led airstrikes in 2015, the Houthis took to streets of the capital, Sana’a, in tens of thousands.
After two years of civil war, the World Food Programme says the country is on the brink of famine.
The sheer scale of the deprivation is staggering: of Yemen’s 25.6 million people, almost 19 million are in urgent need of assistance, the UN says.
Almost seven million are “severely food insecure”, meaning they need food aid immediately. Two million children are acutely malnourished.
Unicef has said that a child is dying every 10 minutes from a preventable illness.
“A malnourished child is nine times more likely to die from a preventable illness than one which is properly nourished,” explains Christophe Boulierac of the UN children’s agency Unicef.
“The situation is nothing short of catastrophic,” says Robert Mardini, who is director of Middle East operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and has recently returned from Yemen.
But despite repeated warnings about a potential disaster in Yemen, the UN’s appeal for $2.1bn to bring relief is only 15% funded. Aid agencies say government ministers gathering in Geneva for the pledging conference must now commit.
“Yemen is a forgotten conflict,” says Caroline Anning of Save the Children.
She believes that the focus on Syria and Iraq is starving Yemen not just of funding, but of the diplomacy needed to try to bring the war to an end.
If governments do pledge more money for Yemen, the challenges for aid agencies will remain immense.
Save the Children would like funding specifically for education, pointing out that over two million children are not able to go to school because of the conflict.
The ICRC, which has been trying to support hospitals in Yemen, would like more attention to health care, which is said to be on the verge of total collapse.
Less than half Yemen’s hospitals are functioning at all, and those that are face daily shortage of staff, medicine and electricity.
But even with extra funding in place, there will be huge difficulties delivering aid. The key port of Hudaydah, which aid agencies describe as “a lifeline” for Yemen, is now virtually closed, due to a partial blockade by coalition forces, and the destruction of cranes in air strikes.
This means that about only 30% of the supplies Yemen needs are getting into the country at all.