Yemenis are experiencing the worst catastrophe in contemporary history. Julian, ACTED country director, reports on the humanitarian situation in an interview in January 2019.
ACTED has been present in Yemen since 2012 with a coordination office in Sanaa, and five operational offices. The NGO intervenes in seven governorates of the country riddled by conflict since 2015. The charity provides emergency response, as well as deliver rehabilitation and development projects with WASH, shelter, food security and agriculture programming, camp coordination and camp management, economic recovery and market systems, cash and voucher programming.
What is the current situation in Yemen? What support does the population need most urgently?
Yemen is the worst humanitarian disaster in contemporary history. The armed conflict has hit an already poor country hard. The slowdown in economic activity,—which has led to a considerable decline in the value of the currency—the collapse of State institutions, the bureaucracy of the parties to the conflict— several of whom have delayed projects for several months— are just some of the reasons why the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate despite the enormous efforts of humanitarian organizations. The United Nations estimates in its “Overview of Humanitarian Needs for 2019” that more than 24 million people will require humanitarian assistance. This represents 80% of the population and a 10% increase compared to 2018.
The most important needs are in the area of food security. According to a study, more than 15 million people are threatened by famine. Many people do not know where to get food for tomorrow and therefore eat only one meal a day. There is enough food almost everywhere in Yemen, so the problem is not availability. The problem is that people can no longer afford to eat for many reasons. For example, civil servants’ salaries have not been paid at all for years, or have been paid with large deductions, so even the former middle class no longer has the means to feed itself.
In addition to food security, drinking water is scarce in many places. Years of war have destroyed vital infrastructure. The lack of clean drinking water led to the worst cholera outbreak ever measured in the country in late 2017. Although the number of new infections is decreasing, the risk of cholera remains high. This is particularly true in remote areas where drinking water supplies can no longer be guaranteed due to bomb attacks or lack of infrastructure maintenance.
What current opportunities do the people of Yemen have to access to food and drinking water?
In Yemen, a very large part of the population depends on humanitarian aid as their only source of food. The World Food Programme (WFP) provides food rations to nearly 10 million people every month. The terrible thing about this situation is that, in other crises around the world, people often have their own reserves in addition to WFP rations. Their dependence on rations is limited in time. In Yemen, millions of people have depended on food for survival for years. But rations are not designed for this and people who live on food rations alone have exhausted their fat reserves by the second year at the latest and suffer from severe pain due to poor nutrition.
International NGOs like ACTED are trying to help people meet their basic needs through cash transfer programmes. ACTED and Welthungerhilfe provide financial support to the people of Yemen.
Why do people receive cash instead of food or basic necessities?
As already mentioned, supply is not the biggest problem in Yemen. The reality is that people do not have enough money to feed themselves. This is one of the reasons why ACTED and WHH distribute money. Not only does money allow people to choose their own priorities, it also strengthens the local economy by increasing people’s purchasing power. The distribution of money by ACTED and WHH has advantages beyond the benefits for the Yemenis. There are no high transport costs to remote areas and the distribution of cash is faster than the distribution of a large emergency package for thousands of people.
What do you think of the next donor conference? Is this an opportunity for the Yemeni people?
The upcoming donor conference will allow the world to focus again on Yemen and, hopefully, convince governments that their engagement in Yemen is now more necessary than ever before. As already mentioned, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance will increase to 15 million. Yemen needs the attention of the international community to force the parties to the conflict to make progress at the negotiating table. More than ever, the population needs the support of the international community. We can’t leave them alone.
How do you feel about working in Yemen, a country that is currently marked by war and hunger?
Yemen is a beautiful country, with wonderful and proud people. It is sad to see war change the country and sow discord between groups that, until recently, lived in peace side by side. What is absurd in this situation is that the supermarkets in Sana’a, for example, are very well stocked, while the streets are full of thousands of people begging to survive.
In the north of the country, the effects of the war are particularly noticeable. On the way from Sanaaaa to Sadaa, every bridge is destroyed, creating monster traffic jams. During my last visit to our office in Sadaa, we were woken up at night by several air strikes in the immediate vicinity, a situation that is, unfortunately, a terrible daily occurrence for the local population.
Is there an experience or meeting that you will remember particularly well?
The landing at Sana’a airport, which can only be approached by United Nations aircraft, clearly shows that Yemen is a war-torn country. The tarmac is lined with destroyed passenger aircraft, fighter aircraft and combat helicopters. The departure hall is marked by air strikes and the airport is deserted, except for employees of international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations. The destroyed planes are like a warning to newcomers and a reminder to travelers not to forget Yemen.