Yemen: After more than 100 days of war, it’s time to break the silence
Mike Penrose, CEO of Action Against Hunger in France, on why the international community needs to break its deafening silence on the worsening Yemen crisis ...
Jul 6 2015
Yemen has endured more than 100 days of war, 100 days of bombing, and 100 days of deafening silence from the international community.
Yet again, Yemen’s people have been abandoned. We – non-governmental organisations, governments, civil society – have failed them. And we’ve been failing them for the past 100 days.
Yemen has joined a growing list of countries where humanitarian needs are critical. Since the end of March, according to the United Nations, more than 3,000 people have died and more than 14,000 have been wounded, half of them civilians. The conflict now affects an estimated 21 million people. This doesn’t even take into consideration the indirect victims of this conflict, people who are suffering daily because of disruptions in access to care and basic necessities.
More than a million people have been displaced in Yemen, forced to flee seemingly endless bombing and fighting. The population is lacking in everything, but particularly in food, clean water, medicine and fuel –basics many of us take for granted. In endorsing the establishment of an arms embargo, UN Resolution 2216 has led to a blockade on the country and has worsened an already critical humanitarian situation.
This blockade has dramatically slowed the supply of food and fuel into the country –Yemen is reliant on imports for 90 per cent of its food intake and 50 per cent of its fuel. According to estimates, only 18 per cent of the fuel needed in May was able to enter the country; a country where the majority of hospitals, drinking water supply systems and, of course, transport need oil to function.
Of course, it’s not just fuel shortages that are a worry. The failure to supply essential goods to Yemen is extremely serious. Even where certain foods are still available for part of the population, albeit unevenly distributed, the price of wheat – a staple in Yemen – has risen dramatically, making it unaffordable for the poorest. In Sana'a, 50 kilos of flour has increased from around US$ 20 to US$50 in recent weeks, while in Aden, some foods have completely disappeared from market stalls. It’s inevitable that we’ll see a rapid deterioration in the food situation for people trapped in the city as a result of this.
The blockade is slowly suffocating Yemen’s population. It’s extremely dangerous from a humanitarian perspective and in terms of respect for international law. The Security Council must now urgently address the negative consequences of its decisions.
In assessing what’s happening in Yemen, the reluctance of some humanitarian actors to act must be recognised – they evacuated during the Yemen emergency and are still questioning how to meet the needs of those affected by it.
We are all responsible for ensuring humanitarian organisations have access to people who need their support, and access for the local population to basic services. All parties to the conflict must protect civilians. Facilitating access to the most vulnerable must involve concrete measures that include guaranteeing respect for humanitarian workers and solutions for rapid evacuations where needed.
On a daily basis, Action Against Hunger’s Yemen teams see the effects of air strikes that are targeting densely populated urban areas and protected places. The scale of destruction and loss of life clearly raises the question of proportionality of force. And the sheer number and irregularity of the strikes are also major obstacles when trying to deliver aid safely.
Today, Yemen, as with too many other countries, is the victim of a military approach taking priority over human life.
Now is the time for the UK, during bilateral discussions with members of the coalition and in the framework of the Friends of Yemen group, to show its commitment to protecting civilians in conflict. It is time for the UK to highlight the importance of respect for international humanitarian law and to raise concerns about the negative impact the ongoing military operations are having on civilians.
We must denounce the contempt shown by parties to the conflict toward international humanitarian law and human rights.
We must ask the coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the UK, among others, to immediately lift the blockade, which is putting civilian lives in danger by preventing both the entry of essential items and the free flow of humanitarian aid.
We must ask for a pause in the hostilities to protect civilians and help them.
To ask for greater access to affected populations, enabling us to provide humanitarian assistance.
Peace negotiations for Yemen ended in 19 June with no agreement reached and with no date set for further discussions. We need the international community to finally take responsibility, to not give up again on victims of conflict.
We must break the silence.