Yemen has been living with a brutal and bloody civil war for over three years now. The conflict, which began in 2015, has resulted in the deaths of over 60,000 civilians and a humanitarian crisis.
The truth is: conflict isn’t just about battles and soldiers. It affects every aspect of life, from your job, to feeding your family, to providing a safe environment for one’s family. Sadly, those who suffer most are not those on the battlefield but the most vulnerable in society who often suffer out of sight and out of mind.
Islamic Relief UK has hundreds of staff working hard to save lives in the country but ultimately only peace can bring about the life-saving changes we need. This is why we are campaigning to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Thousands of you have shown support in recent years and we’ve seen some big news in the last few weeks (for better and for worse), so we wanted to feedback on what this means in practice.
Fighting to feed families
We’ve been deeply concerned by the contents of a recent report showing if and how a country is considered to be suffering from famine. The report was written by the Global IPC Steering Committee on Yemen and shows the magnitude of the crisis, with half of the population struggling to feed itself.
As one of the largest international non-government organisations (INGOs) in Yemen, our staff gave evidence to writers of the report. This report shows the magnitude of the crisis. As a result, we’re urgently calling on parties to the conflict to acknowledge the report and take steps to end the conflict. The recent ceasefire in Hodeida will make a difference – if it’s adhered to – but it’s only the start of a delicate process.
The report uses what is called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system and shows a dramatic increase in the numbers of people facing “famine-like” conditions. Here are some of the numbers that we’ve found most shocking:
- Over 65,000 individuals across the country are in “catastrophic” / famine-like conditions. Without humanitarian food assistance, this would rise to over 240,000
- Nearly 5 million people are now in an “emergency” situation in terms of food supply and a further 11 million are in “crisis” situation
- Put all together: over half of the population are in a situation where they are unable to meet their food needs without resorting to irreversible measures such as selling household assets
The conditions of hunger in Yemen are man-made and there are many different obstacles which are resulting in people going hungry. These range from challenges to getting food and fuel into the country, the affordability of the food that is available and the blockades across Yemen which means transportation becomes almost impossible at times. None of these problems are simple to resolve.
The report shows clearly what humanitarian interventions need to be in place to keep the population fed. Put simply, without immediate and regular humanitarian food assistance, the number who are in famine-like conditions would swell to almost a quarter of a million. We are calling for humanitarian agencies to receive free and unhindered access across the country, and for parties to the conflict to ensure that food, fuel and medical items can be moved to where they are most needed.
How we help and why more aid is needed
Islamic Relief Yemen is helping to feed 1.6 million people per month and is scaling up operations in the most affected areas of Sanaa, Hodeidah, Dhamar, Mareb, Amran and Saadah. We are working particularly with those displaced by the fighting and are concerned by the significant stress faced by these displaced individuals who are at greatest risk of food insecurity.
In addition to asking for increased public support for our own campaign, we are calling on the international community to step up and meet the £4 billion needed for the humanitarian response.
A path to peace?
Islamic Relief UK and our colleagues in Yemen will do everything we can to help those in need but we alone cannot solve the crisis. This tragedy is entirely man-made and, as such, is within the capacity of the international community to solve.
We were delighted to see the internationally-backed de-escalation plan agreed by the UN Special Envoy and the conflicts to the party last week in Stockholm. Islamic Relief UK has been calling for a ceasefire in Hodeida since the major escalation in June and we welcome both the work of the international community and the good faith shown by the parties to the conflict in making this happen.
The ceasefire has been widely reported and officially came into effect on the morning of Tuesday 18th December. We are watching closely and praying that it holds. My colleague Salem leads our programme and lives in the port city. He spoke with Al-Jazeera recently for this article and told them about how fragile the peace is:
“The situation is calm, but it’s important to remember that even on a normal day you hear the sound of gunfire”
– Salem Jaffer Baobaid, deputy director of Islamic Relief in Hodeida
Peace in Hodeida is by no means a certainty. As my colleague Salem has shown, even a ceasefire is accompanied by the sounds of conflict. We are cautiously optimistic for now but will be closely monitoring the situation in the days to come. Crucially we will be highlighting where any failure to adhere to the ceasefire stops our life-saving work.
Conflicts like the one in Yemen don’t end overnight. The peace talks in Sweden were an important milestone in what negotiators call “confidence building measures”, yet there is so much further to go.
We welcome the UK’s recent commitment to table a new UN Security Council Resolution which would back up the agreements in Sweden and give them a higher legal standing. Security Council Resolutions can be a crucial tool in helping bring about peace. More than setting a direction, they can authorise the use of UN peacekeeping troops and ensure effective sanctions against all parties to the conflict if they ignore agreed terms. We call for ongoing UK leadership to ensure the UN Security Council monitors the implementation of the Resolution that is agreed and responds in a timely way to any violations.
Additionally, we also want to see the ceasefire extended to the whole country as soon as possible. Likewise, equal measures are urgently needed to re-open Sana’a airport. Creating confidence is critical but we encourage all parties to the conflict to recognise that time in not on anyone’s side.
Much progress has been made in the last two weeks. If citizens of Yemen are to have any hope of becoming independent of aid, we need these next steps to happen soon. Anything less will leave millions of Yemenis with only hope to live on. And hope cannot feed a family.