UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2022 (IPS) - When North and South Yemen merged into a single country ushering in the Republic of Yemen back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Described as the poorest in an oil-blessed Middle East, Yemen continues to be categorized by the United Nations as one of the 46 least developed countries (LDCs), “poorest of the world’s poor” depending heavily on humanitarian aid while battling for economic survival.

But the longstanding conflict with neighbouring countries – and a civil war on the home front – have caused immense devastation to a country which, according to the UN, continues to face “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster”.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said last week that more than 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since the escalation of the conflict, between a pro-Government Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi rebels.

The killings and casualties, UNICEF said, was the equivalent of four children every day. These are just the incidents the United Nations has been able to verify, so the true figure is “likely far higher”, said the agency.

As the conflict enters its eighth year, with no end in sight, the London-based humanitarian organization Oxfam said in a new report released March 24, “escalating death, destitution and destruction has left millions of Yemeni civilians facing widespread misery”.

Oxfam Yemen’s Country Director, Ferran Puig told IPS: “The world must not look away while Yemen suffers. This year’s aid program is currently 70 percent underfunded, providing just 15 cents per day per person needing help. So, it’s vital that countries who are usually very generous to Yemen continue their support – otherwise millions will face terrible suffering. “

At a pledging conference for Yemen on March 16, co-hosted by the United Nations and the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, only 36 donors (out of a UN membership of 193 nations) pledged nearly $1.3 billion. https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-conference-2022-financial-announcements-last-updated-16-march-2022

At the UN’s daily press briefing on March 17, one of the questions raised was about the woeful lack of Arab donors – with only Kuwait among the 36.

Asked if the Secretary-General was disappointed, UN Spokesperson Stephan Dujarric told reporters: “We can’t speak as to why certain countries gave more, why certain countries didn’t give; you will have to ask them. What is clear is that, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have traditionally been very strong backers of our humanitarian appeals. In Yemen, we’ve always appreciated that partnership.”

Dujarric also said that Martin Griffiths, the UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen, expressed his disappointment that some of our traditional partners did not give.

“I think what needs to be said clearly is that a pledging conference is there to kind of highlight the need and motivate people to give. But it’s not as if people can’t give after the pledging conference. So, we very much hope that those countries who did not give yet, did not pledge, do so”.

“To speak colloquially, the door to the bank remains open. We hope we still get more pledges… and those who have pledged also convert those pledges into cash as quickly as possible.”

Asked if Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, who are involved in the conflict, have a moral obligation to donate funds, Dujarric said: “We believe that there is a moral obligation on a global scale for those who have the means to help those who most need help. There’s an obligation for global solidarity across the board”.

Meanwhile, the Oxfam report warned that the human cost of the war in Yemen is rising sharply as the conflict enters its eighth year, with the number of civilian deaths increasing sharply, hunger on the rise and three quarters of the population in urgent need of humanitarian support.

The international agency said another year of war would bring unimaginable suffering to civilians ?almost two-thirds of Yemenis will go hungry this year unless the warring parties lay down their arms or the international community steps in to fill a massive gap in the appeal budget.

According to Oxfam, the escalating costs of war include:

— 17.4 million people currently going hungry, with predictions this will rise to 19 million by the end of the year (62 percent of the population and an increase of more than 8 million since the conflict started).

— 4.8 million more people in need of humanitarian assistance than in 2015, the first year of the conflict. Since UN human rights monitoring was withdrawn in October 2021, the civilian casualty rate has doubled, now reaching well over 14,500 casualties.

— 24,000 airstrikes have damaged 40 percent of all housing in cities during the conflict.

— And during the last seven years, over four million people have been forced to flee from violence.

The Ukraine crisis, said Oxfam, has exacerbated the situation, raising concerns over supplies of grain and cooking oil. Yemen imports 42 percent of its grain from Ukraine and Oxfam has been told prices have already started to rise. In Sana’a bread went up 35 percent over the week that fighting broke out (200 Yemeni Rial to 270 Yemeni Rial).

Oxfam’s Puig said: “After seven years of war, Yemenis are desperate for peace – instead they are facing yet more death and destruction. Violence and hunger are on the increase once more and millions of people cannot get the basics their families need.

“People can’t afford to pump water to irrigate their crops and in remote areas where people rely on trucked drinking water, they can’t afford to pay increased prices meaning they have to use water that is not safe to drink. City dwellers in some areas are experiencing electricity cuts of 10-12 hours a day ?those who have them are relying on solar panels to charge mobile phones and supply a small amount of power.”

He said farmers are unable to afford to transport produce to markets, causing prices of fresh produce to rise even further. Buses and motorbike taxis are becoming unaffordable leaving many unable to pay the cost of transport to healthcare facilities and other life-saving services.

“Health facilities across the country could soon be forced to shut off life-saving equipment because of lack of fuel. During the last few days, local media in Taiz have reported that the Al Thawra hospital has stopped its operations due to the fuel shortage”.

Government employees, he pointed out, have not been paid since the end of 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with new restrictive regulations has reduced the number of Yemenis able to work in Saudi Arabia and send money to relatives at home.

“And a spiralling currency devaluation means that what little income people may have buys less and less every day forcing Oxfam and other aid agencies to regularly increase the cash transfers they provide to support vulnerable families”.

Civilian deaths and injuries in the conflict have doubled since the UN body responsible for monitoring violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen was removed in October of last year, said Puig.

“There have been over 14,554 civilian casualties since recording by the Civilian Impact Monitoring project started in 2017. During the last seven years there have been over 24,600 airstrikes across Yemen.

In the last few months, shifting frontlines have led to an increase in landmine deaths and injuries around Marib where retreating forces lay them to slow down their opponents. Civilians using mined roads or gathering firewood in contested land are often victims”.

Yemenis faced with these problems are forced to resort to cope any way they can. People live in a cycle of debt, increasing numbers are resorting to begging, the reports points out.

“Yemen desperately needs a lasting peace so people can rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Without peace the cycle of misery will continue and deepen. Until then, adequate funding for humanitarian aid is critical,” Puig declared.

Cover Photograph: Young boys stand in front of a damaged vehicle in Sa'ada, Yemen. CRedit: WFP/Jonathan Dumont

IPS UN Bureau Report