People are desperate to tell their story
“I recently went along Yemen’s west coast, along a narrow strip of land between the front lines, trying to reach households that didn’t really have access to humanitarian aid. People in these areas were desperate to tell their story.
Usually it is the mothers who want to tell you how they struggle to access schools for their children, access to water, food or hospitals. It is a cry for help, a cry that we must heed.
In one location we saw a school that had been destroyed by mortar attacks, and the area was contaminated with landmines, so there was no harvesting. Drinking water and medical aid were on the other side of the front line, and people felt totally trapped on all sides.
We hear stories like this over and over and every two or three days I read reports of another injury from a landmine or unexploded ordnance, usually a child.
Huge holes in emergency funding
Fortunately, we have been able to raise enough money, especially between April and June, to stop the famine march, but it is fragile and must be sustained.
We’ve received about $2.1 billion so far, and last week we saw additional pledges of about $600 million. So it brings us a little closer, but we’re still short of the total requirements.
There are huge gaps in health, education, water, sanitation, support for landmine eradication protection and unexploded ordnance. All of these areas are about 80 to 85 percent underfunded.
We have been able to reach children at risk of malnutrition, but the funding needs to continue through the end of this year, into 2022. And we need to prepare for that push for more funding in the coming year.
The COVID-19 pandemic complicates what is already a very difficult situation. I’ve been on the ground in many hospitals and I’ve seen how busy they are. Because there are no longer clinics outside the provincial capitals, there is a lack of space and the beds are full. Mothers have been rejected and told to move to another province.
So COVID-19 is only adding to that burden on top of everything else, including the many other diseases afflicting the Yemeni people.
The UN can make the difference
There are three things we really need in Yemen right now. One is to support the humanitarian response and prevent people from falling into starvation or acute malnutrition.
The second is to step back and see why this humanitarian catastrophe exists. It’s related to the war, of course, but what the war has done is destroy the economy and most of the jobs have been lost so people don’t have the income to buy food. economic approach to complement humanitarian aid, and find ways to unlock the economy and help businesses open up where possible, and generate jobs and income so that families can buy their own food.
And of course the third element we need is a political settlement to end the conflict. On the economic side, however, we do not have to wait for a political settlement. We can do a lot now, if we can mobilize the political will.
This will eventually come to an end. These things always do at some point. My biggest fear right now is that this conflict will continue. I’ve worked in other countries where this kind of situation has been going on for about 20 or 25 years, and it’s fundamentally transforming the country to the point where it can’t go back to the social norms and development that existed before.
I took this job because I think there is real hope to make a difference, but now is the time to end this conflict, before we lose an entire generation of young people who will know nothing but war.”