Yemen: “Dramatic humanitarian situation” could erode political process, warns UN

16 May, 2013
The UN has warned that half of Yemen’s 24 million people require humanitarian assistance. Photo: Yemen Humanitarian Communication Network
The UN has warned that half of Yemen’s 24 million people require humanitarian assistance. Photo: Yemen Humanitarian Communication Network

Yemen’s chronic humanitarian crisis threatens to undermine recent moves towards political stability, warned the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Ismail OuldCheikh Ahmed.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva today (16 May), Mr Ahmed said that efforts to bring stability to the country could be for nought if more was not done to address widespread and severe humanitarian needs.

“Yemen is at a crossroads,” said Mr Ahmed. “We have a chance finally to see (a successful transition). But this whole process could collapse if we don’t deal with what is a dramatic humanitarian situation.”

Conflicts in the north and south of Yemen, combined with recurrent drought and high levels of poverty, have left half of the country’s population of 24 million in need of humanitarian aid. Hunger is widespread, and access to even basic health care is inadequate. More than 340,000 people are displaced from their homes.

Humanitarian community hindered by lack of support

Half of Yemen's 24 million
people need humanitarian assistance

10.5 million
need food assistance

5 million
have almost no access to food

6.4 million
people cannot access basic health care
> 340,000
people are internally displaced
1 million
children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition
may die without immediate assistance

Mr Ahmed called for international support for humanitarian organizations in Yemen. The humanitarian community in the country has grown in recent months. There are now 89 organizations – UN agencies and local and international NGOs – active in the country, as opposed to only 66 in 2012.

"I believe strongly that Yemen is full of hope, we can turn the situation around, but that requires strong support from the international community to the humanitarian response. But we have less than a third of the funding we need," Mr. Ahmed said

Humanitarian agencies have called for US$ 716 million to assist 7.7 million of the most vulnerable people in the country in 2013. However, the response from donors has been slow. Only 28 per cent of funding has been received.

With adequate funding, the humanitarian community aims to provide over 3 million people with water and sanitation, and more than 7 million people with food, including an estimated 700,000 malnourished children. Agencies believe they could provide health care services to about 4.2 million people.

Migrants face violence, exploitation

Mr Ahmed spoke also of the extreme vulnerability of thousands of migrants who travel to or through Yemen seeking work in the Gulf States. Since the beginning of 2013, an estimated 25,000 people from Ethiopia have travelled across Yemen, with many of them being stranded in Haradh on the border with Saudi Arabia.

“What we have discovered is that they are often subject to violence and mistreatment by human traffickers,” said Mr Ahmed. “I was there with my colleague from IOM and what we saw was quite dramatic.

“Women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence, and children are being recruited to armed groups.”

Aid organizations estimate that at least 50 people arrive daily in the town of Haradh. About 22 per cent of migrants that arrive on the Yemeni coast are women and girls, according to IOM.