In Yemen, this year’s foreign aid inflows were only one-third of last years’ funds, despite an increase in threats to human security tied to famine prospects. As of early October, the UN had received $1.3 billion in Yemeni aid, which was about 40% percent of its estimates for operations is intended to coordinate and carry out in 2020. That’s a major drop from the $3.6 billion it received in 2019, upon initially requesting $4.2 billion.
Funding gaps triggered high concerns among the international community, as food insecurity and barriers to health services are at the forefront of expressed concerns. UN humanitarian relief coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that “more money for the aid operation is the quickest and most efficient way to support famine prevention efforts right now.” Willow Rook, acting country director of Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) in Yemen, expressed concerns about the future implication of funding cuts: “the real concern is not necessarily the numbers we’re seeing right now, but the anticipated and ongoing contextual changes that could impact security in the coming weeks and months.” (TNH)
These risks are symptomatic of the current economic and currency crisis in Yemen, paralleled by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Instability on the ground has led to sharp currency devaluation and in turn, decreased food availability and affordability for the local population. Furthermore, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley reported that obstructions to humanitarian access have diminished the confidence of donors.
However, the international calls for more support have also arisen after large-scale prisoner swaps that have been seen as an important “confidence-building” measure between the warring sides. The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross announced on 27th September that the Houthi rebels and Hadi’s government had agreed to exchange a total of 1,081 prisoners.
It is not the first time that the international community has issued rallying calls for more material support in the Yemen crisis. In late 2017, Lowcock warned that Yemen was then facing “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims”. Although the recurring “specter of famine” was avoided in 2017 and 2018, millions of people didn’t have enough to eat and many children did die of malnutrition.
This time, he graphically described “the horrors inflicted by famine on the body and on the soul.” For those who escape disease and find nothing to eat, he said, vital organs start to wither, and “the body starts to devour its own muscles, including the heart”. “When I think about what famine would mean, I am really at a loss to understand why more is not being done to prevent it,” Lowcock said.
Yemen has been described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis by the UN. Five and a half years of war between the Iran-allied Houthi group and the internationally recognized Hadi government, backed by a fractured Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led coalition, have left eighty percent of the country’s 30 million people in need of help.
“Famine” is the word that makes it to headlines. By pointing to the untenable cruelty of decimation of lives, Lowcock and the international community call to the moral and emotional imperatives of international actors. The economic, military, and human costs of war are embedded within complex geopolitical frameworks of international power relations. If the urgency of the situation calls for an immediate increase in donor funds, one should not forget the long-term implications of international intervention, and these complexities should be kept in mind as the funds are deployed.
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