By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SANA’A, Yemen — As the situation in Yemen grows worse, aid workers fear it is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. Needs in the country are on the rise, and the delivery of aid is becoming increasingly more complicated.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it currently finds itself in a struggle with a rebel movement in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, and an ever-growing al-Qaeda presence.
Yemen’s inner turmoil has recently been complicated further by the recent violent governmental crackdown on pro-democracy protests across the country, a fuel crisis, and rising food prices.
The region’s insecurity, an almost uniform hesitancy of financial donors, and a series of logistical complexities have brought the delivery of aid to a near standstill.
“We have here in Yemen many concurrent humanitarian situations to deal with,” said Geert Cappelaere, representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen. “Each and every one of these humanitarian situations is very often of an unprecedented complexity for us as the international humanitarian community.”
Historically, it has always been difficult to get the international community to pay attention to Yemen. Donations in the billions of dollars have been made to Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, but Yemen once again finds itself left behind.
The funding that did exist is quickly shrinking, mainly out of fear that the money would be funneled through a widely reported government patronage system. Countries and international organizations such as the United States, the European Union, and the World Bank have withdrawn or suspended funding, citing security and governmental concerns. The Friends of Yemen, a group of donors specifically concerned with the future of Yemen, have not met since the current crisis began in February.
“While the political stalemate has caused many donors to pause, this is the time when it is most critical to act,” said Oxfam, the international poverty and injustice organization. “No longer should politics and security be the drivers of aid strategies in Yemen,” it added, referring in part to a US insistence on focusing its aid on counter-terrorism, rather than on the areas of Yemen in most need.
Overall insecurity is one of the biggest complications facing the country. The violent crackdown on protests throughout the country has led the United Nations to temporarily evacuate almost half of its international staff. Similarly, most aid organizations have evacuated a large number of their staff in the country.
Renewed fighting in Southern Yemen has led to the displacement of over 100,000 people since May. The World Food Programme has seen an increase in the number of people it is feeding from 30,000 in June to 63,000 today. If the turmoil continues to worsen the organization will not have the resources to comply with the need.
In Northern Yemen malnutrition rates are among the worst in the world. Nearly 1/3 of the children under five suffer from moderate to severe acute malnutrition. This is more than twice the threshold for an emergency as defined by UNICEF.
A rupture to a major pipeline in March has made fuel prices rise (The price of transportation has increased by 100% and 200% in urban and rural areas respectively) as well as increase the price of food across the country (up 46% since January). This increase in food prices comes at a time when 1/3 of the population, around 7.5 million people, already do not have enough to eat.
An Oxfam survey found that out of 100 families nearly 1/5 of them had taken their children out of school to put them to work, and nearly 2/3 were skipping meals. Others have begun selling valuable items to buy food.
Despite these obvious problems the insecurity has hampered attempts at aid. Anti-Government tribes make it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver supplies. They have a strong distrust of the motives of outside groups. Local agents are employed to attempt to bypass this barrier, but it is still proving difficult. In cities affected by the anti-government protests there is indiscriminate shooting, which can make the humanitarian workers into indirect targets.
The problems in Yemen are so complex and layered that by attempting to deal with one it is possible to create or exacerbate another. About 20,000 of the displaced people have taken temporary residence in 112 schools in Southern Yemen. For this reason the new school year for many of the southern cities has been indefinitely suspended. The government and aid community are searching for a more permanent location for the displaced peoples, but so far one has not been found. If one can’t be found soon the problem will likely change to finding places to teach the school-less students.
On top of the need for humanitarian aid, international organizations are also worried about the steady increase in violence. Almost weekly news comes out of new massacres and acts of brutality. A serious concern for many is the number of women and children that are being targeted. According to UNICEF, at least 94 children have been killed and 240 wounded since the current crisis began earlier this year.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, has called numerous times for the government and opposition groups to meet with his special advisor, Jamal Benomar, to attempt a peaceful resolution to the crisis. This so far has fallen on deaf ears.