Yemen needs broad support to stop the crisis

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Some 17 million people in Yemen don’t know where they might find their next meal, and 6.8 million face life-threatening malnutrition—in a country of only 27 million. © WFP/Abeer Etefa

Fragile, impoverished Yemen already ranked among the world’s poorest countries when political transition erupted into all-out war two years ago. To make things worse, the country is also suffering the largest food security crisis worldwide. It will take far more than emergency aid to address one of the worst food and humanitarian emergencies in recent memory.

Yemen’s deepening crisis has reversed decades of hard-won development gains, with civilians paying an appalling price. Five years ago, for example, as a result of UNDP’s de-mining efforts, the country was nearly mine-free. Now, all 22 governorates are littered with explosives, in some cases severely. More than 3 million people have been displaced, nearly 8,000 killed and over 40,000 injured in the ongoing conflict.

Yemen has historically imported 90 percent of its food, overwhelmingly through the embattled port of Hodeidah. With ports, roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure badly damaged - and in some cases blockaded - and domestic agriculture disrupted, Yemenis are now on the brink of an avoidable famine.

Some 17 million people now don’t know where they might find their next meal, and 6.8 million face life-threatening malnutrition—in a country of only 27 million, mostly younger people. An estimated 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished. Four fifths of Yemenis are indebted, with more than half of all households buying food on credit.

A further 1.5 million households that had been receiving cash transfers have had no support since January 2015. The health system has also collapsed, while a half million civil servants have gone unpaid for the last six months and have simply stopped showing up for work. Inflation and black-marketeering are rife.

New United Nations appeal

On 25 April, the United Nations and its agencies will launch an appeal for US$2.1 billion with a call on donors to step up as they haven’t done so far: A Humanitarian Response Plan launched in February, targeting 10 million people with planned resources of US$1.9 billion, has fallen woefully short. It’s currently just 16.5 percent funded.

What will it take to halt this escalating catastrophe?

First, with peace efforts floundering, restrictions on the importation and urgent delivery of food and medicine in the short term must be removed. Concerted, collective action is vital as Yemenis struggle daily to survive with dignity.

Second, let’s acknowledge that this food crisis—like so many others—is essentially man-made. It is primarily the result of war, and has roots as well in long-term governance failures. Addressing this emergency and preventing future crises will demand both urgent humanitarian and long-term development interventions.

Third, let’s make restoring the purchasing power of low- and middle-income Yemenis a priority so the economy can function and people can meet their own basic needs.

Much of this work is already under way, but it cannot continue without support from donors.

UNDP is working with the World Bank to revive the economy through large cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labour-intensive repairs of small infrastructure benefiting vulnerable communities.

In partnership with the European Union, we are building resilience in rural areas through jobs and solar power. UNDP, UNICEF, and WHO are devising emergency measures to pay performance-based incentives to health workers in priority districts so they can reach the most severely malnourished patients.

Broadly, we’re forging new partnerships, mobilizing funds, and implementing innovative programmes that promise major long-term impact on the ground. We promised such expanded collaboration at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. With support from donors, delivering on that promise offers our best hope to achieve peace and end the suffering in Yemen.