While the Ukrainian crisis never ceases to make headlines, as outbursts of solidarity multiply around the world and as Europe takes in large numbers of refugees fleeing a country at war, other conflicts continue to claim casualties. This is particularly the case in Yemen, where the country has been ravaged for nearly seven years by fighting between a pro-government coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels. This conflict, often passed on in silence, is believed to have led to the “worst humanitarian and development crisis in the world”†
On the occasion of the donor conference on the humanitarian response in Yemen, Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood actress and envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), published a column to recall this sad reality. She describes the dramatic humanitarian situation under which four million displaced refugees and calls for the commitment of the international community† A message of peace and solidarity as strong as it is precious.
Ten days ago I was in Yemen to meet some of the four million people displaced by the conflict.
I visited an informal site where 130 families lived. Only 20 of them receive food aid, and only if money is available.
I attended a makeshift school consisting of five small dark rooms. The children sat on the floor and had not eaten. Neither does the teacher. She is a volunteer and told me that she walks at least an hour every day to get to this remote place, to try to give these children hope for a better future. Because they have nothing. No food. No pens. No desks. No textbooks. No salary for the teacher. Thirteen-year-olds sat next to others as young as three, struggling to learn to read and write, hoping for a future they may never see.
I visited another site where displaced families live in precarious shelters, with no income and no food. Miles from any water source or sanitation facility. There are no toilets, no showers. There is no school. Most children are illiterate due to years of conflict. Many young girls are married off, either to save the family an extra mouthful or to receive a dowry that is likely to contribute to the survival of other children in the family.
I met a mother who had lost three of her children to preventable diseases. His son then fell ill and was hospitalized. Even if the hospital has drugs to treat him – which is not always the case – it will not be able to pay the necessary costs.
This is the reality of a humanitarian crisis for which resources are seriously lacking, and whose origin is a conflict that has gone on for so many years without finding a political solution.
So let’s be clear. As we all know, we cannot name a place in the world where we manage to end violence or reduce the number of people forced to flee their homes.
Last year, the UN’s humanitarian programs were only half-funded, and this year we are faced with unprecedented needs. Needs that grew worldwide, even before the devastating effects of the war in Ukraine.
The UNHCR appeal in Yemen itself is only 9% funded. And in addition to its own suffering, Yemen is home to more than 100,000 refugees from Somalia, Syria and Ethiopia, among others, without any support.
So it’s a real heartbreaker. It’s furious. Especially since this is a man-made crisis that must end.
We all know that humanitarian aid does not work without political solutions. The two should always go hand in hand.
Nothing is more important to Yemen than ending the conflict so that people have the opportunity to live in security and dignity, free from the aid that no country or people would want to depend on.
The next donor conference should be about helping the Yemeni people rebuild and develop their country, not about answering a certain percentage of a call for help to help only a fraction of the millions of people who desperately need to survive in the light of hunger and disease. But here we are now.
The lack of solutions to conflicts and insecurity in the world results in human displacement and unmanageable needs. Humanitarian aid is under pressure, as it is now in Yemen.
As governments, you have the opportunity to address this dramatic human emergency and try to end the conflict urgently.
I hope you will seize this opportunity. I beg you to do this, on behalf of the people of Yemen and the families I have met.
Thank you for your time. Please do what you can.