By Robin Gomes
Civilians, particularly women and girls, are bearing the brunt of the conflict in Yemen, where the United Nations is facing access constraints and a funding shortfall that are hindering humanitarian operations amid an escalation of fighting.
The UN has appealed for $3.9 billion this year to help millions of people in the war-torn country. Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ramesh Rajasingham told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “the biggest constraint right now is funding” to help about 16 million people in Yemen, where a brutal conflict has been raging for more than 7 years.
The wages of war
Yemen’s conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite Muslim rebels, officially called Ansar Allah, who control much of the country's north. Since 2015, a Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition that is backing Yemen's internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis.
The conflict, seen as has a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed tens of thousands of civilians and fighters. It has also created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
The UN’s Development Programme (UNDP) estimates the war killed some 377,000 people by the end of 2021, both directly and indirectly through hunger and disease.
Over the past month alone, escalating military action in Yemen displaced more than 15,000 people, killed or wounded more than 350 civilians, and left the Arab world’s poorest nation facing growing hunger and economic collapse with no political solution in sight, the UN said.
“I call on all donors to sustain – and if possible, to increase – their support this year,” Rajasingham said. He pointed out that funding has been decreasing in recent years, with last year’s response plan only funded at 58 percent. This has forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to cut its assistance budget for eight million people.
“Other vital programmes, including water, protection, and reproductive health services, have also been forced to scale back or close in recent weeks for lack of funds,” Rajasingham said. Aside from funding, humanitarian access and security also remain significant impediments to aid, Rajasingham pointed out.
The conflict has intensified since the start of the year after the Saudi-led coalition sent reinforcements to push back Houthi advances. With warring parties accelerating efforts to claim victory, the UN sounded the alarm saying it is frustrating peace efforts.
Hans Grundberg, UN secretary-general’s envoy to Yemen, told the Security Council on Wednesday that “military escalations in recent weeks ... have been among the worst we have seen in Yemen for years, and which are taking an increasing toll on civilian lives.” “As the tempo of the war increases, the already severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and within the country could worsen.”
Grundberg stressed that “there is no sustainable long-term solution to be found on the battlefield.” Instead, parties should instead turn to the negotiating table “even if they are not ready to put down their arms”.