By Alexander Kozul-Wright
GENEVA, Mar 3 2023 (IPS)
At a high-level UN event, global donors pledged US$1.2 billion in aid operations to Yemen in 2023. Millions of Yemenis require humanitarian assistance as the country continues to suffer from the fallout of a prolonged civil war.
While the Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths noted that the UN had received 31 commitments during the conference on February 30, 2023, in Geneva, the amount pledged remains well below the organisation’s target of US$4.3 billion.
The conflict in Yemen started in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels – representing 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.
Owing to repeated Saudi-led bombardment campaigns and deep territorial divisions (half of the country remains under Houthi control in the north and the other half under government control in the south), Yemen’s economy has ground to a halt.
Last year, exogenous factors also led to steep falls in Yemen’s Rial relative to the U.S. dollar, pushing inflation up to 45 percent. Elsewhere, food prices surged by 58 percent. In 2022, 13 million people in Yemen relied on the UN’s World Food Program for basic staples.
To date, the conflict has killed more than 375,000 people, sixty percent from indirect causes (mainly from malnutrition and disease). The war has also razed the country’s civilian and physical infrastructure, including its oil sector – Yemen’s only source of foreign exchange.
Last year, warring parties agreed to an UN-brokered cease-fire. Though it expired in October, the six-month truce led to a reduction in casualties. It also enabled commercial traffic to flow through the port of Hodeida, increasing the supply of goods and aid into the country.
A slight improvement in food security at the end of last year meant two million fewer Yemenis suffered from acute hunger. The number of people in famine-like conditions also dropped from 161,000 to zero. But progress remains 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 in 2023,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres.
Among those in need, more than 17 million are understood 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 “highly vulnerable” to the effects of rising global temperatures (notably arid weather). In recent years, severe droughts have exacerbated food shortages caused by the war.
Yemen Remains in Need of External Support
The UN’s US$4.3 billion funding objective is nearly double what it received last year. Looking ahead, reliance on external aid will be particularly acute in 2023 due to constrained oil exports linked to Houthi attacks on government-held oil terminals last October.
This week’s conference took place as the country’s rival groups agreed to an informal suspension of hostilities. Efforts are underway to declare a lasting peace after the parties failed to extend their UN-backed peace agreement last year.
“We have a real opportunity to change Yemen’s trajectory and move toward peace by renewing and expanding the truce,” noted Guterres at the pledging event, co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland.
The meeting was attended by officials worldwide, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. In his speech, Blinken called on donors to step up their contributions, citing last year’s funding shortages.
The UN missed its financing target for Yemen by US$2 billion last year. Blinken also urged the international community to help restore Yemen’s economy, suggesting this would “reduce people’s suffering over the long term.”
“Large-scale investment will be needed to rebuild Yemen’s physical infrastructure. Securing peace, however, remains the top priority. “Without it, millions will continue to face extreme levels of poverty, hunger and suffering,” added Blinken.
Meanwhile, the UN secretary-general warned that aid funding would not provide a panacea for Yemen.
“Humanitarian assistance is a band-aid. It saves people’s lives but cannot resolve the conflict itself.”
IPS UN Bureau Report