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UN seeks £1.7 billion for Yemeni relief

17 February 2017


Crisis: a man walks through the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike on the outskirts of Sanaa, on 2 February

Crisis: a man walks through the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike on the outskirts of Sanaa, on 2 February

HUMANITARIAN agencies in the UK and elsewhere have issued urgent appeals for financial donations to the work of caring for millions of people caught up in the war in Yemen. The UN is seeking to raise £1.7 billion, and says that 12 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and about 19 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

For the past two years, Saudi Arabia has headed a coalition of Arab states seeking to defeat Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, and army units loyal to the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Despite intensive Saudi air strikes and fierce land battles, neither side seems either close to victory or willing to compromise.

With the attention of the world generally focused on the battles against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, the Yemeni conflict has largely been overlooked. Aid agencies are seeking to raise the consciousness of the international community. Oxfam says: “Millions of men, women, and children are one step away from famine. We urgently need your help to feed families and save lives.”

The message from Save the Children is that “Millions of children in Yemen are caught up in a horrifying crisis. Two years of brutal war have pushed the country to the brink of famine.” The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, says that “2.2 million children in Yemen are malnourished. Yemen is facing a major humanitarian crisis. Four years of unrest — in addition to the current conflict — has left children and families in urgent need of food, water, medical supplies, and safe places for children to learn and play. The health service is near to collapse.”

Tearfund, which has been working in Yemen through partners since the 1970s, launched an emergency appeal in December (News, 16 December) and has raised £1.1 million. This has enabled aid workers to provide help across the country “with life-saving assistance, in addition to building the resilience of affected communities”.

The deputy head of Eurasia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, Guy Calvert-Lee, said that the situation in Yemen remained critical. He thanked “the thousands of people who so generously gave to our appeal in December. Your money has helped us distribute clean water, by paying for water trucks to visit remote areas, and helped us install rainwater catchment systems, so that families can collect water within their communities.”

Mr Calvert-Lee welcomed the UN appeal for £1.7 billion, and hoped “the international community will continue to rally behind the people of Yemen”.

While the UN, with strong support from the UK and other Western nations, is still trying to arrange new peace talks, all efforts thus far have failed. One complication is that the conflict has regional dimensions. Saudi Arabia and its allies want not only to defeat the Houthis and reinstall the internationally recognised Yemeni government, but also to end what they regard as Iranian meddling in an Arab country. For the Saudis to step back from the war without achieving their aims would, in effect, hand victory to Iran.

But the longer the conflict continues, the greater the human suffering will become. At the same time, jihadist groups — notably IS and al-Qaeda — are exploiting the lawlessness to strengthen their influence by attracting and training new recruits.

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