War, Blockade and Starvation Haunt Millions in Yemen

As the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen enters its fourth anniversary without any decisive victory or tangible results, we can except widespread death and massive destruction in an already fragile and impoverished country.

To make an already bad situation much worse, the looming famine and spread of plagues which was long coming, threatens, more than ever before, to seal the tragic end for millions of Yemeni civilians, under the very nose of a bewildered international community and aid organisations.

Conservative figures estimate the deaths of Yemeni children alone to be over 100.000, the majority of whom under 5 years old. This comes as a result of bombardment, malnutrition and poor health care, further complicated by severe shortages of food as well as essential medical supplies and facilities.

Even the insufficient food supplies that seldom manage to reach the ports of this beleaguered country, tend to languish for months on end in food storage warehouses, hampered or even completely blocked from reaching Yemenis badly in need of such basic staples. The armed conflict and starvation are deeply intertwined in Yemen.

As peace talks between Yemeni parties and factions often end before they even begin, the war-ravaged country, widely believed to be the original place from where almost every Arab tribe had migrated from to Arabia and other parts of the Middle east centuries ago, faces a gloomy destiny and an uncertain future.

The UN says it needs $4 billion in order to save millions of Yemenis from famine. The huge human cost of the crisis was recently highlighted by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres at a Yemen donor conference held in Geneva.

” 24 million Yemenis, or four-fifths of the population, need some form of aid or protection”, Mr. Guterres stated as he appealed for $4 billion to help 15 million Yemenis this year — the biggest-ever single country appeal from the United Nations. “Almost 10 million are just one step away from famine,” Mr. Guterres said.

Paradoxically, the largest contributions of the $2.6 billion that were pledged by donors following the UN boss’s appeal, a 30 percent increase in the amount promised by donors at a similar event a year earlier, came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the same two countries that are leading the war effort in Yemen.

The Saudis and the Emiratis who pledged $1.5 billion at the Geneva conference, have been spearheading the Arab coalition who have been struggling for the past 4 years to oust the Houthi rebels who control most of northern Yemen, including the strategic port city of Hudaydah.

“If we don’t get the money, people will die,” Lise Grande, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said.
“There are regular understandings with donors about ensuring we acknowledge the gifts, but the aid will be distributed according to basic U.N. principles,” Stéphane Dujarric, the United Nations spokesman, told reporters in New York.

The Red Sea Mills dilemma is a stark example of the intricacies of the Yemeni conflict, and the intermingling complications of the international efforts to avoid increasing the threat of starvation in Yemen. Aid workers had been unable to access the Mills since September, as the Saudi-led coalition mounted a fierce offensive to snatch the city of Al-Hudaydah from Houthi control. Battles over the strategic city raged until December when both sides met near Stockholm and signed a truce, brokered by the United Nations, and promised to withdraw their troops from the city by January 7. That deadline passed without any forces leaving the city, with each side accusing the other of bad faith.

On February 17, the United Nations forged a new agreement with the two sides for a confidence-building troop withdrawal from Saleef and Ras Issa, two smaller nearby ports. The move was supposed to lead to a drawdown in Hudaydah. Michael Anker Lollesgaard, a Danish general leading the United Nations mission to Hudaydah, held talks with the belligerents there, but nothing tangible has been achieved since.

UN envoys have been shuttling back and forth trying to end the war in Yemen and the suffering of its population, with little progress so far. But without real US pressure upon Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to stop their so far ill-fated onslaught called ” Decisive Storm” on Yemen which had promised to end the war with a resounding defeat of the Houthis within months, diplomatic efforts will continue to have a minimal chance of success.

If the loud cries of millions from this war-torn country, calling for an urgent halt to the bloodshed and to put an end to the high cost of one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history, continue to fall on deaf ears, Yemen could easily slide into an even worse period of fighting that would in turn increase the chances of catastrophic famine.