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Yemen crisis in danger of fading from international attention, Archdeacon warns  

10 September 2021


Free meals are distributed to people with vouchers at a charity centre in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday

Free meals are distributed to people with vouchers at a charity centre in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday

THE military, political, and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is pushing the largely forgotten war in Yemen further into international obscurity, the Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven. Dr Bill Schwartz, has said.

Speaking last week, he said: “I’m afraid it’s inevitable that unfolding events in Afghanistan will be central headlines for some time. International personnel have been there in big numbers over the past years, both in the military and in various NGO capacities. There has been a personal interest factor. Yemen, on the other hand, has never been on the radar of most EU and North American citizens.”

The timing of the fading of the focus on Yemen is of concern. Briefing the UN Security Council last week, the assistant secretary-general for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Khaled Khiari, said that he could see no end to the conflict: “No progress has been made by parties in Yemen to reach a political agreement to settle the civil war, which is now in its seventh year.”

Taking up this theme, Dr Schwartz said: “The tragedy in Yemen grinds on and on without much change. It’s difficult for the media to come up with different footage and photos of poverty, destruction, deforestation, refugees, and children in hospitals in Yemen.”

Mr Khiari told the Security Council that military activity continued to ebb and flow, and that sporadic fighting had been observed in al-Jawf Province in central Yemen and the city of Taiz, which had been long besieged by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The city of Maarib, also under prolonged Houthi attack, remains the key strategic focus of the ground war because it acts as a gateway to an important oil- and gas-producing region. The UN official called on all parties to cease “completely and immediately” attempts to achieve territorial gains by force.

Turning to humanitarian challenges, Henrietta Fore, the executive director of the UN children’s fund, UNICEF, said that little had changed since her last briefing two years ago. “Each day,” she continued, “the violence and destruction wreak havoc on the lives of children and their families.”

So far in 2021, 1.6 million children have been internally displaced because of violence. In the Red Sea port city of Hodaidah and in Maarib, essential health, sanitation, and education services are “incredibly fragile” and “on the brink of total collapse”. Having experienced or witnessed horrific violence, children would carry physical and emotional scars for their entire lives. “Being a child in Yemen”, she concluded, “is the stuff of nightmares.”

Dr Schwartz said that it was essential that a way be found to shift an international focus on to Yemen. “The most important dynamic in all this would be for even one major power to become committed to ending the Yemen conflict. It’s clear that the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Iranians, and certainly the Yemenis who are not profiteering from the conflict are all looking for a way to end the fighting.”

While Yemen may look to most outsiders like a distant, complex, and obscure conflict — way beyond any means that they may have to influence its outcome — Dr Schwartz insisted that “Christians can participate in world events beyond their immediate reach through prayer, especially uniting with other Christians throughout the world in prayer.”

For some, there was an opportunity to take practical steps. “To the degree that it’s possible,” Dr Schwartz continued, “it would be good for people to engage in political activism within their constituencies to ensure their political representatives don’t forget Yemen. Support for Church and other NGO work of compassion is and will become increasingly important to meet the incredible needs of the Yemeni people in these difficult times.”

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