- INTRODUCTION: YEMEN ON THE BRINK OF CATASTROPHE
Yemen is today in its third year of a complex and brutal conflict, with no end in sight. The human impact of the violence and destabilization it has engendered has been devastating – and is getting worse. Over 20.7 million people (over 75 percent of the population) require humanitarian assistance and protection, with 9.8 million requiring urgent life-saving assistance.
Over 2 million are currently displaced, cut off from their homes, livelihoods and access to services, acute malnutrition has reached emergency levels (with close to 3.3 million people affected), and a cholera outbreak has further compounded the humanitarian situation. In this context, the threat of imminent famine is serious and very real. 17 million people (60 percent of the population) are food insecure, and of these 10.2 million are in IPC phase 3 ‘crisis’ and 6.8 million are in IPC Phase 4 ‘emergency’ phases.1 These numbers are growing, and the probability of a slide into famine conditions (IPC phase 5) in the most affected regions is expected to increase over the next six months if current factors driving food insecurity and humanitarian needs are not addressed.
Like South Sudan, Somalia and north-east Nigeria, the factors worsening food insecurity and overall humanitarian needs in Yemen are man-made. The main cause is the continuing conflict, which has generated large-scale displacement, disrupted economic and social activity, and led to a breakdown in key systems and institutions necessary to sustain livelihoods, productivity and essential services. The extent of the damage caused by the conflict has been made worse by pre-existing weaknesses. As one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, Yemen suffered from endemic and widespread poverty and vulnerability, a stagnating economy, dwindling natural resources, and weak governance and institutions. The current conflict has pushed Yemen’s already weak economic and social institutions and services to the brink of total collapse. In this context of increased fragility, Yemen is acutely vulnerable to shocks, which it does not have the capacity to handle. According to March 2017 IPC analyses, further disruptions in trade, an escalation of the conflict, or even a change in climatic patterns could tip the country into famine, with potentially disastrous consequences.
A key priority of the international community is to prevent food insecurity trends from reaching famine levels. The nature of the crisis has four principal implications for an effective response:
■ Humanitarian life-saving assistance continues to play a critical role, and in several governorates been responsible for notable reductions in food insecurity. In the short-term, and given the severity of the situation/trends and scale of needs, this remains the most urgent, important and viable course of action.
■ At the same time, life-saving assistance alone is an insufficient measure over the medium-term, given that it is limited to addressing the symptoms and not underlying (and worsening) causes of food insecurity and vulnerability.
Additional resilience and recovery interventions are needed to complement life-saving assistance to: prevent further deepening of vulnerability and food insecurity by increasing resilience and mitigating core drivers of food insecurity over the medium term; safe-guard gains achieved through life-saving assistance through more durable forms of support; and prevent critical institutions and services from collapsing.
■ Over the medium-term, measures to strengthen resilience and stabilize conditions need to be accompanied by political actions that create an appropriate enabling environment to ensure their sustainability. These do not require a full-scale peace agreement, but can take the form of intermediate decisions and actions taken by parties that have a direct impact on food security, including restrictions on imports, disruptions of road movements, functioning of state institutions and economic governance violations. These measures could be important steps to a comprehensive political and peace settlement to the conflict, and broader political and social confidence and peacebuilding.
■ Finally, long-term prevention and mitigation of famine risk will need to rest in multifaceted development solutions to Yemen’s underlying structural drivers, which include deep-rooted governance, economic, political and environmental deficits and challenges.