By Abdulwasea Mohammed
SANA’A, Yemen, Jun 6 2023 (IPS)
During the week of May 21, the UN held its annual week dedicated to the Protection of Civilians. The themes of the week’s events, particularly the side events, I had the honor of participating in, mirrored many of the pressing issues in Yemen, as conflict continues.
While there is some hope as peace negotiations are underway, millions of Yemenis are still feeling the acute impacts of war. I had the opportunity to address some of the representatives of UN member states, UN agencies and fellow NGOs, who are taking a leading role on these issues, including Conflict and Hunger and Community-Led Approaches of Civilian Protection.
I also was able to share many of these key messages with members of US Congress and UN missions during my time in the US. As we look ahead, we need to see the conversations from the week put into action.
Conflict and hunger are deeply intertwined in Yemen, just as they are around the world – Conflict continues to be the top driver of extreme hunger. The humanitarian response including food, cash, clean water, is saving lives every day, but without clear signs for lasting peace, hunger and other potentially deadly challenges that cannot be ended in Yemen.
And in our case, the same can be said about economic factors – many continue to overlook the impact the shattered economy has had on pushing food insecurity to catastrophic levels. We need both inclusive peace and large-scale economic action to help Yemenis continue to survive and recover.
Restrictions on imports over the years, continued financial shocks and economic deterioration as well as increased prices of fuel and food commodities, and disruptions to livelihoods and services, have driven millions to hunger.
The World Bank has estimated that around half the 233,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015 are attributable to the indirect impact of the war – from lack of food, healthcare and infrastructure. What is even more painful is, in many areas, there is plenty of food in markets, but most Yemenis are not able to afford it.
The indirect impacts are overwhelming but this is also in addition, unfortunately, to very direct impacts on food production and essential infrastructure due to fighting. At Oxfam, we have documented farms being targeted, fishing boats being fired at, and unexploded ordnance, cluster munitions and landmines—all of them putting agricultural areas out of use.
To address all of these threats and their devastating impacts, we need community-based and community-led action. At the UN I spoke specifically about hunger and community-led protection, but this approach can be applied across humanitarian response and steps toward early recovery.
In times of crisis, community leaders, local organizations, and neighbors are the true first responders, arriving first and staying long after larger groups may have to leave. They are more effective in some ways, and have the knowledge to support the most vulnerable members of society. These groups need more resources to do their work effectively.
This is a concrete way for the aid community to make a difference in Yemen now and going forward – to reframe and revise support to community-based protection and funding to local organizations, with a focus on building trust over long-term relationships.
Donors should provide longer timeframes for organizations to accomplish the goals in a project and provide more flexible funding and support to truly build on the success of community-level work.
Yemen, just like all humanitarian responses, is a complicated place to work, and sometimes time runs out on funding, before a project even begins after dealing with security, logistical and bureaucratic challenges.
Of course, local groups alone cannot tackle one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, and organizations like Oxfam should listen to their priorities, assess how to best support the work underway, and fill in the gaps to provide a complementary response.
Taking all of these risks and approaches into account, it is key that policies and programs addressing conflict-induced hunger address the specific needs and experiences of the most vulnerable, including women and displaced people.
All of these groups should be able to weigh in on issues impacting them as part of this an inclusive and effective humanitarian response, economic recovery, and sustainable peace.
Targeted programs to support their economic empowerment, such as providing access to finance, technical assistance, and market opportunities; and improving access to education all would make a massive difference for these groups, and for Yemen as a whole.
Above all, we have to address the root causes of the conflict and its impacts in a holistic way. For there to be progress, we must ensure that any negotiated peaceful resolution includes these same voices of women and other marginalized groups and addresses the underlying issues such as political and economic inequality that have contributed to the conflict and ensure no one is left behind.
I hope the Protection of Civilians Week was a point of reflection and a renewed call to action for those that gathered, as it was for me. Each context is unique, but there is much to learn from each other. I spoke at events alongside experts from the Lake Chad Basin, South Sudan, and more – and we all had something to learn from our successes, failures, and recommendations.
With more resources in the right hands alongside a recommitment to peace, Yemenis – along with those caught in similar spirals of hunger and insecurity – can have a hopeful way forward.
Abdulwasea Mohammed is Yemen Advocacy, Campaigns Media Manager at Oxfam.
IPS UN Bureau