Yemeni Refugee Crisis: What Assistance Can We Provide?

By Ali Reza Sarwar

The ongoing conflict in Yemen, particularly after the launch of Operation Decisive Storm on March 26, 2015, has inflicted serious humanitarian toll on ordinary Yemenis. According to the United Nations, 45, 0000 people, in addition to 33,0000 people previously displaced, including foreign citizens living in Yemen, have been displaced in the recent conflict and even more are entangled in war zones.

International aid organizations have recently warned about potential humanitarian crisis if conflict does not stop and immediate assistance is not provided to internally displaced people (IDPs).  A recent report by Relief International highlights that at least 15.9 million Yemenis “need some form of humanitarian assistance.”  The report further adds that 13.4 million Yemenis do not have access to drinking water with 12 million people without sanitation and finally 10.6 million who “are unable to meet their food need.”

Air Strike Yemen

As the conflict in Yemen continues, the refugee crisis will only expand

With total public debt of 48.2 percent of GDP in 2014 and only 154th on the Human Development Index  2014 and influx of mixed emigrants from neighboring countries, mainly Somalia and Syria and the internally displaced peoples ( IDPs),  Yemen was already on a perilous path to humanitarian crisis even before the collapse of UN-brokered unity government on January 2015.

Aid organizations’ work has been stopped or frequently interrupted because of precarious security situation. Recently, the INGO Steering Committee, representing 47 aid organizations, has released a statement requesting all parties, including international community for “increased and safe humanitarian access necessary to ensure the delivery of life-saving supplies.  The INGOs also warned about the severe non-military aspects of war, including hunger, destruction of infrastructure and disease, particularly the health condition of 700,000 pregnant women.

UN and USAID agencies and partners have been spearheading the humanitarian relief effort, although in a limited scope given the fragile security and magnitude of the crisis as explained by UNCEF  representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, that humanitarian relief cannot” replace the need of 26 million people cut off from regular supply of food and fuel.”

In his trip to Saudi Arabia on March 6, 2015, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry announced $ 68 million aid to provide immediate assistance to Yemen. The aid is expected to be used for medication, food and temporary shelter to refugees.  Since the beginning of the transition period in 2011, the U.S. has spent more than $800 million in education, health, good governance and job creation in Yemen.  Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia pledged $274 million for humanitarian assistance.

Other than financial shortage and routine displacement of Yemenis, the political-security complex has exacerbated the crisis and slowed aid delivery. It was only after the five-day humanitarian ceasefire agreed by warring parties on May 12, 2015, aid agencies, including UNHCR and WFP were able to deliver basic assistance.  A viable solution to the current war in Yemen will take time and should, obviously, be achieved through genuine domestic dialogue and regional consensus, the humanitarian suffering of refugees and internally displaced (IDPs), however, requires immediate humanitarian response, which should begin by providing access and security to the aid organizations and a prescient adherence to laws of war.

Ali Reza Sarwar is a Researcher with the Project on U.S. Leadership in Development.

Photo courtesy of wikimedia user Ibrahem Qasem under a Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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