- Posted April 30, 2014 by
Friends of Yemen meet again as Yemen faces the worst crisis in a decade
As the world’s poorest Arab country and with the second highest malnutrition rates in the world, with more than half the population some 14.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. It’s befitting that The Friends of Yemen seventh meeting held yesterday – 29 April in London has been dubbed 'Yemen’s forgotten crisis.' The Friends of Yemen were established in 2010 and it compromises of 40 states and organizations which collaborate and coordinate international support and funding for Yemen. Since The Friends of Yemen were first established to ensure Yemen receives the help needed for social, political and economic development little of the money has reached and made sustainable differences in the lives of ordinary Yemeni citizens. In fact Yemen is now facing the worst crisis in a decade.
Out of the 14.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance this consists of up of 10.5 million who are food-insecure, of whom 4.5 million are severely food insecure. With one of the largest youth population in the Middle East, accompanied by one of the highest illiteracy rates - and with an estimated 1 million malnourished children, according to the OCHA, Friends of Yemen also need to highlight that in conjunction with political reform, investment into education and employment opportunities has to be of paramount importance. This cannot be done without the elimination of widespread corruption or at least with realistic and reasonable plans to hold any who jeopardize this accountable.
The pre-conference seminar of the Friends of Yemen organized by Oxfam and held on Monday 28 April discussed some aspects of the worsening humanitarian crisis, which unknown to many ranks on the scale of the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Further propositions on how to ensure effective measures of accountability for the distribution of funds were not discussed; nor why the UN’s $592 million 2014 Yemen humanitarian response plan is still just 11% funded. There was also no mention of the fact the UN only received 53% of the funding needed last year – a 5% decrease from 2012. The national dialogue was hailed a success by most of the respected speakers, yet unfortunately most failed to mention the lack of engagement with ordinary citizens. The only speaker to address this was Atiaf Alwazir, a a civil society activist who lived in Yemen for the most part of the uprising, she stated “The obsession on the national dialogue has side-lined the people’s needs.” This statement can only be understood if you know of the region, as the country consists of large numbers of the population who live in rural areas, while a large number are also illiterate - and who for the most part bare the worst of the humanitarian crisis and instability the country endures. The fact that the national dialogue is hailed a great success when it failed a fundamental aspect in engaging most ordinary citizens; most whom don’t understand the outcomes of the national dialogue which is supposed to be for the benefit of the citizens is somewhat alarming.
While leaders and organisations met again, the shift from just pledging to actually providing immediate support has to be implemented if Yemen is to continue to be a success on this fragile road of transition. As Alan Duncan, the UK international development minister stated at the Friends of Yemen pre-conference seminar "Yemen is both a forgotten success as well as a forgotten crisis." Large aspects of long-term development need to be established in basic services such as primary health facilities, nutrition, education and one of the most important struggles which continues to be water and sanitation. In a country in which its capital city - known to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world is expected to run out of water within the next decade or so - there cannot be discussions on political reform while more than half the population are in dire conditions. Most will not and cannot have confidence in any reform without seeing improvement in their daily lives. While immediate life-saving intervention to the most vulnerable in Yemen is much needed, overlooking and lack of investment in long-term sustainable development sooner rather than later will only worsen what the past few years have proved – the lack of long-term sustainable projects is making Yemen more volatile economically, politically and socially; thus adding to the security situation. As Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi stated at the pre-conference seminar. “We need to address the economic challenges as this is the root cause for the security situation.” This admission that the social strain caused by lack of opportunity goes hand in hand in eliminating security challenges, will hopefully be considered in depth by The Friends of Yemen and implemented in future plans.
The country is further strained due to the continuous inflow of refugees, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia who consist of about a quarter of a million of those in need. In addition to millions in need within Yemen, due to the introduction of new labour and immigration policies in Saudi Arabia this has forced an estimated 400,000 Yemenis to leave the country and return to Yemen – which in turn will most likely result in further deterioration of malnutrition levels and food security in the country - as many families lose their only source of income. With NGO’s anticipating more Yemenis to be expelled in the coming months, this huge influx of migrants will most likely put more pressure on labour markets and unemployment will only rise. The lack of progress from Friends of Yemen since its establishment cannot be denied, while the lack of contingency plans seems to be only adding to the already complicated dynamics in Yemen. Ultimately ignoring or not fully taking action on what is said to be one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in the world, will surely prove catastrophic nationally and globally.
The support given by the International community will continue to be undermined by the prevalence and expanding use of drones. Although ironic in a statement released by the Co-chair after the conference which specifically stated ‘The Friends of Yemen reiterate their full support to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen.’ The drones seem to be hindering all of the above while dwindling foreign credibility amongst citizens. This being said - as The Friends of Yemen was established, their role seems to have evolved and are now some of the major contributors to the process of political reform. While the transition process is underway a strategic rethink in how to aid the Yemeni government in eliminating AQAP, while not losing hearts and minds, this could instill belief in political and social change. Also outlined in the statement of release is an agreement to restructure the friends of Yemen group in order to enhance its work and fully support Yemen as it undertakes the political transition and reform. While agreeing on an implementation mechanism in three main areas – the political transition, economic reform and development and security and justice sector reform. The three main areas will have steering committees and working groups, this brings some hope that there will in fact be accountability – although with the complete lack of transparency in the whole process, we may never really know.
Yemen has witnessed a turmoil of events over the last three years and dealt with its fair share of problems preceding the uprising. The Friends of Yemen can help make a change in the country and aid in social, economic, security and political progress, but only if civil society at large is involved and the focus shifts from unsustainable investment to sustainable development – in the long run only this will eliminate the need for ongoing humanitarian aid and in turn will put Yemen on the road to breaking the cycle of dependency.