Ye­men is the largest sin­gle-na­tion hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis

The New Age (Gauteng) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Baher Ka­mal is an IPS correspondent

WITH 18.8 mil­lion peo­ple, nearly seven in 10 in­hab­i­tants in need of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, in­clud­ing 10.3 mil­lion re­quir­ing im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance, Ye­men is now the largest sin­gle­na­tion hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the world, the UN in­forms while warn­ing that the two-year war is rapidly push­ing the coun­try to­wards “so­cial, eco­nomic and in­sti­tu­tional col­lapse”.

More wor­ry­ing, the con­flict in Ye­men and its eco­nomic con­se­quences are driv­ing the largest food se­cu­rity emer­gency in the world, the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (Ocha) has re­ported.

Ac­cord­ing to Ocha, more than 17 mil­lion peo­ple are “food in­se­cure,” of whom 6.8 mil­lion are “se­verely food in­se­cure” and re­quire im­me­di­ate food as­sis­tance, and 2 mil­lion acutely mal­nour­ished chil­dren.

The Ye­meni pop­u­la­tion amounts to 27.4 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants.

“We can avert a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe, but need $2.1bn in fund­ing to de­liver cru­cial food, nu­tri­tion, health and other life­sav­ing as­sis­tance,” the UN es­ti­mates. UN, Swe­den, Switzer­land The world or­gan­i­sa­tion plans to hold a high­level pledg­ing meet­ing for the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Ye­men. Co-hosted by the gov­ern­ments of Switzer­land and Swe­den, the con­fer­ence will take place at the UN in Geneva on April 25.

“The time is now to come to­gether to pre­vent an im­pend­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe in Ye­men,” the UN said.

Ocha has also re­minded that even be­fore the con­flict es­ca­lated in mid­March 2015, Ye­men had faced “enor­mous lev­els” of hu­man­i­tar­ian needs stem­ming from years of “poverty, un­der-de­vel­op­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tal de­cline, in­ter­mit­tent con­flict and weak rule of law”.

It has also stressed the need to pro­tect civil­ians.

“The con­duct of hos­til­i­ties has been bru­tal. As of De­cem­ber 31, 2016, health fa­cil­i­ties had re­ported nearly 48 000 ca­su­al­ties (in­clud­ing nearly 7 500 deaths) as a re­sult of the con­flict,” it said.

These fig­ures sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­count the true ex­tent of ca­su­al­ties given, di­min­ished re­port­ing ca­pac­ity of health fa­cil­i­ties and peo­ple’s dif­fi­cul­ties ac­cess­ing health­care. Mas­sive vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights Ocha stressed the im­pact of this cri­sis in which “all par­ties ap­pear to have com­mit­ted vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights law”.

On­go­ing air strikes and fight­ing con­tinue to in­flict heavy ca­su­al­ties, dam­age pub­lic and pri­vate in­fra­struc­ture and im­pede de­liv­ery of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, it said, ad­ding that par­ties to the con­flict and their sup­port­ers have cre­ated a vast pro­tec­tion cri­sis in which mil­lions of peo­ple face tremen­dous threats to their safety and well-be­ing and the most vul­ner­a­ble strug­gle to sur­vive.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian body, since March 2015, more than 3 mil­lion peo­ple have been dis­placed within Ye­men.

Roughly 73% are liv­ing with host fam­i­lies or in rented ac­com­mo­da­tion, and 20% in col­lec­tive cen­tres or spon­ta­neous set­tle­ments.

A sub­stan­tial num­bers of re­turnees live in dam­aged houses, un­able to af­ford re­pairs and face se­ri­ous pro­tec­tion risks. Econ­omy is de­stroyed The Ye­meni econ­omy is be­ing wil­fully de­stroyed, Ocha says. Pre­lim­i­nary re­sults of the dis­as­ter needs as­sess­ment es­ti­mated $19bn in in­fra­struc­ture dam­age and other losses – equiv­a­lent to about half of the GDP in 2013.

“Par­ties to the con­flict have tar­geted key eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture. Mainly air strikes – but also shelling and other at­tacks – have dam­aged or de­stroyed ports, roads, bridges, fac­to­ries and mar­kets. They have also im­posed re­stric­tions that dis­rupt the flow of pri­vate sec­tor goods and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, in­clud­ing food and medicine,” it said.

For months, nearly all ba­sic com­modi­ties have been only spo­rad­i­cally avail­able in most lo­ca­tions, and ba­sic com­mod­ity prices in De­cem­ber 2016 were on av­er­age 22% higher than be­fore the cri­sis, re­ports Ocha.

At the same time, Ye­men is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a liq­uid­ity cri­sis in which peo­ple, traders and hu­man­i­tar­ian part­ners strug­gle to trans­fer cash into and within the coun­try.

Lenders have be­come in­creas­ingly re­luc­tant to sup­ply credit to Ye­meni traders seek­ing to im­port es­sen­tial goods. Ba­sic com­modi­ties are scarcer and more ex­pen­sive On this, it in­forms that the end re­sult is an eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment in which ba­sic com­modi­ties are be­com­ing scarcer and more ex­pen­sive just as peo­ple’s liveli­hoods, op­por­tu­ni­ties and ac­cess to cash are re­ced­ing or dis­ap­pear­ing al­to­gether.

And the hu­man­i­tar­ian part­ners face grow­ing pres­sure to com­pen­sate for the en­tire com­mer­cial sec­tor, which is be­yond both their ca­pac­ity and ap­pro­pri­ate role.

Es­sen­tial ba­sic ser­vices and the in­sti­tu­tions that pro­vide them are col­laps­ing due to con­flict, dis­place­ment and eco­nomic de­cline.

“Ye­meni au­thor­i­ties re­port that Cen­tral Bank for­eign ex­change re­serves dropped from $4.7bn in late 2014 to less than $1bn in Septem­ber 2016, and the pub­lic bud­get deficit has grown by more than 50% to $2.2bn,” Ocha said.

In ad­di­tion, salaries for health fa­cil­ity staff, teach­ers and other pub­lic sec­tor work­ers are paid er­rat­i­cally, of­ten leav­ing 1.25 mil­lion state em­ploy­ees and their 6.9 mil­lion de­pen­dents – nearly 30% of the pop­u­la­tion – with­out a reg­u­lar in­come at a time of short­ages and ris­ing prices.

“As a re­sult, so­cial ser­vices pro­vided by pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions are col­laps­ing while needs are surg­ing,” it said.

In Au­gust 2016, the Min­istry of Pub­lic Health and Pop­u­la­tion in Sana’a said it could no longer cover oper­a­tional costs for health ser­vices and by Oc­to­ber, only 45% of health fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try were fully func­tional.

Ab­sen­teeism among key staff – doc­tors, nu­tri­tion coun­sel­lors, teach­ers – is re­port­edly ris­ing as em­ploy­ees seek al­ter­na­tives to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to the UN.

On top of pres­sure to com­pen­sate for a fal­ter­ing com­mer­cial sec­tor, hu­man­i­tar­ian part­ners are in­creas­ingly field­ing calls to fill gaps cre­ated by col­laps­ing pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. 90% of food im­ported – 8 mil­lion lost liveli­hoods Ac­cord­ing to Ocha, Ye­men re­lies on im­ports for more than 90% of its sta­ple food and nearly all fuel and medicine.

Au­thor­i­ties in Sana’a and other ar­eas also at times deny or de­lay clear­ances for hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing move­ment re­quests for as­sess­ments or aid de­liv­ery.

Re­stric­tions on work­shops, hu­man­i­tar­ian data col­lec­tion and in­for­ma­tion shar­ing have also been in­ter­mit­tently in­tro­duced and re­scinded.

These re­stric­tions are at times re­solved through di­a­logue, but the time lost rep­re­sents an un­ac­cept­able bur­den for peo­ple who des­per­ately need as­sis­tance. Pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments since Novem­ber 2016 in­di­cate that these re­stric­tions may sub­stan­tially im­prove in the im­me­di­ate com­ing pe­riod.

An es­ti­mated 8 mil­lion Ye­me­nis have lost their liveli­hoods or are liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ties with min­i­mal to no ba­sic ser­vices, the UN says, ad­ding that about 2 mil­lion school-age chil­dren are out of school.

Ye­men is the sec­ond-largest coun­try on the Ara­bian penin­sula, oc­cu­py­ing nearly 528 000km², and its coast­line stretches for about 2 000km. – IPS

PIC­TURE: AFP

STOCK­ING UP: The UN needs more than $2bn to avert a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe in the south­ern Ara­bian coun­try of Ye­men, which is rav­aged by con­flict.

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