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Yemenis do not need a fundraising conference. They need the war to end

As the spread of coronavirus exacerbates Yemen's crisis, Western governments must take a firm stance with Saudi Arabia to end the fighting
A Yemeni youth wearing a protective mask sells fruit at a street market in Taiz on 1 June (AFP)

Saudi Arabia cohosted a United Nations fundraising conference this week for aid operations in Yemen. The kingdom’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said his country “supports the UN efforts to reach a political solution in Yemen to alleviate the suffering and support humanitarian, economic and developmental aspects”. 

Implying that it cares about Yemenis is ironic for Saudi Arabia, which has been intervening militarily in Yemen for more than half a decade.

“After destroying Yemen, Saudi Arabia is co-hosting a fundraising summit for Yemen. This is the height of moral hypocrisy," Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told MEE. "What is equally outrageous is that the United Nations is legitimising this exercise in political theatre.

“Let’s not forget that for the past five years, MBS [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] has been spending $5-6bn per month on Yemen. For a fraction of this money, Yemen could have been rebuilt into a prosperous nation.”

Today, the Yemeni people are fed up with lip service. They need to see real collaboration and work on the ground to prevent the situation from worsening

The Yemeni people do not need a fundraising conference. They need the war and the fighting to stop.

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Saudi Arabia has been prolonging the war, yet has failed to achieve its military goals or to put forward a plan to end the conflict. Without a roadmap to end this devastating war, things are unlikely to improve for the Yemeni people, who deserve to live in lasting peace.

Yemen is in the midst of a serious humanitarian crisis. Since the start of a cholera outbreak three years ago, there have been more than 2.3 million suspected cases of the disease. Last year, UN World Food Programme spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said that around 20 million Yemenis were food insecure, and “nearly 10 million of them are one step away from famine”. 

This crisis has largely unfolded because of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project: “Since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition and its allies are responsible for over 8,000 of the approximately 11,700 fatalities reported in connection with direct targeting of civilians in Yemen.”

The death toll from fighting is at least 100,000, with tens of thousands more dying due to disease and malnutrition caused by the war. Last year the UN projected a death toll of 233,000 by 2020, with 60 percent of the victims under five years old.

Delayed humanitarian aid

In 2015, Saudi Arabia pledged $274m in emergency humanitarian relief for Yemen, but the promised funding was delayed for months. In 2017, Save the Children warned that as a result of Riyadh’s delay in providing aid to Yemen, children have died. 

In July 2019, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock called out Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for paying only a “modest proportion” of the hundreds of millions of dollars they pledged in February of that year to the humanitarian appeal for Yemen. These delays suggest that the Saudi-led coalition does not care about humanitarianism; rather, it uses the aid packages as part of its strategy.

Displaced Yemenis receive humanitarian aid in the northern province of Hajjah on 30 December (AFP)
Displaced Yemenis receive humanitarian aid in the northern province of Hajjah on 30 December (AFP)

In the conference hosted on Tuesday, international donors reportedly raised $1.35bn in humanitarian aid for Yemen, but it fell short of the UN target of $2.4bn needed to save the world’s largest aid operation from major cutbacks.  

“Part of the shortage of funding stems from growing distrust in UN agencies operating in Houthi-held areas due to aid weaponisation, and lack of transparency and accountability; countries looking inward and therefore redirecting resources to address immediate Covid-19 challenges; and surely, mounting estrangement and competition in the region,” Yemeni researcher and analyst Ibrahim Jalal told MEE.

The Houthi rebels share some responsibility for Yemen’s current situation, with clashes erupting between the rebels and the Yemeni government in the past; yet the crisis only reached unprecedented levels after Riyadh’s intervention. 

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Some Western governments - including the US, which sells arms to the coalition - also share in the responsibility, as they have failed take a firm stance with Saudi Arabia on ending the war. By supporting Riyadh unconditionally, these governments contradict the values and principles they claim to stand for.

Today, the Yemeni people are fed up with lip service. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, they need to see real collaboration and work on the ground to prevent the situation from worsening.  

“A politically negotiated settlement is important, and the path to it is uneasy,” Jalal said, citing the need for a comprehensive healthcare strategy to address the rapid spread of coronavirus. “People are dying as we speak. Urgent, credible health measures are needed.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Abdulaziz Kilani is a British Arab writer and researcher who focuses on the Middle East and North Africa region. @AZ_Kilani
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