By Arab News
By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Last Wednesday (March 21), the Gulf Cooperation Council convened an international conference to discuss the humanitarian challenges faced by Yemen. It was attended by about 30 countries and international and regional organizations.
The objective of the meeting, which received wide press interest in Yemen and elsewhere, was to draw attention to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in that country and to appeal to Yemen’s friends to help in containing the crisis. You would think that Yemen’s friends would rush to provide the required assistance. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet, as 80 percent of the UN plan to meet humanitarian needs has yet to get funded. Indeed, the fact that you needed to hold this meeting at all speaks volumes about the apathy of some influential members of the international community toward the suffering of Yemen.
Since the beginning of Yemen’s political crisis that started with the refusal of its former president to give up power in the face of popular protest early last year, Yemen’s friends have not tired of telling Yemenis what they should do. Now some are too busy claiming credit for ending the political impasse to pay attention to the unfinished business of governance and, most urgently, humanitarian crisis. Yemeni politicians, especially remnants of the old regime, are too busy fighting over the spoils of the civil strife to give the humanitarian situation the priority it deserves.
According to UN findings, one of the main challenges to providing humanitarian assistance in Yemen is the still volatile security situation, which reflects the still unresolved conflicts underlying the political crisis. While there has been reduction in the number of checkpoints and military presence in major urban areas, including Sanaa, security remains a challenge, especially outside major cities. In some areas, tribal elements as well as terrorist groups have the upper hand. Obviously, alleviating human suffering is not a priority of these groups and they have no qualms about preventing aid groups from reaching affected populations.
The factual basis of the GCC meeting last Wednesday was a number of reports by the Yemeni government and an especially detailed report prepared by the United Nations, which painted a grim picture of suffering among Yemenis and refugees alike. Among the key findings of the report:
— Between eight and 10 million Yemenis (33-40 percent of the population) are suffering some form of humanitarian deprivation. Women, children and refugees are affected the most.
750,000 children under the age of five are suffering from malnutrition, which is double the number at the beginning of the crisis in 2011.
— 500,000 children are at risk of dying this year if adequate support is not provided.
— Clean drinking water is in short supply in many areas, causing a severe rise in water-borne diseases.
— Lack of vaccines and medical facilities has led to a 20-fold rise in childhood diseases in some locations since the start of the crisis last year.
— Children in many areas are not able to go back to school because their school buildings have been severely damaged or else occupied by armed groups, government forces, or internal refugees.
The Riyadh conference made it very easy to help Yemenis face their humanitarian challenge. After establishing the facts by experts as I summarized earlier, three options were presented to participants:
— To contribute to a humanitarian fund established by the UN to meet Yemen’s humanitarian needs, which are estimated to cost about $450 million.
— To take on some of the projects identified in the UN response plan.
— To divert some of previously allocated aid from longer-term development projects to humanitarian assistance.
With this worsening humanitarian crisis, time is of the essence. Unfortunately, some of Yemen’s friends are satisfied with giving Yemenis more lectures on what they did wrong in the past and how they got to where they are now. But those lectures are of little benefit to the millions of Yemenis who are suffering the consequences of a senseless fight over power, a fight that has every indication of continuing. Let us hope that the Riyadh conference could change that!