According to data from monitoring group ACAPS the world’s worst humanitarian crisis today is in Yemen. It’s a truly shocking statistic and an even worse crisis. And yet it has not had a great deal of coverage in the mainstream media. To find out why this is and more on what can be done, I spoke with Tearfund’s Humanitarian Support Officer, Clare Third:
What’s happening in Yemen, who's fighting who, and how long has it been going on?
The conflict in Yemen is intensely complicated. In 2011, protests against President Saleh as part of the Arab Spring led to a peace agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council. There was a transfer of power from Saleh to his deputy, the now President Hadi. However, this didn’t bring about the social change that was hoped for, and in 2014 Houthi rebels from the north, loyal to Salah, staged another uprising.
In March 2015 the crisis escalated. President Hadi requested international support, which led to a Saudi Coalition (made up of Saudi Arabia and ten other countries in the region) starting to bomb Houthi-held areas. The fighting between the Saudi-supported government forces and the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels is the main reason why we’re seeing the humanitarian crisis we have today.
Airstrikes launched by the Saudi Coalition have been reported to have hit civilian communities, hospitals and schools, and both sides of the conflict have been accused of causing civilian injuries and deaths.
On top of this, instability in Yemen has caused a growing presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, who have seized parts of the country.
You mentioned the humanitarian crisis. What form is that taking?
It’s taking almost every form you can think of – a food crisis, water crisis, health crisis. There are 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance of some form.
The need has been exacerbated because the environment of Yemen is very unforgiving to agriculture – it's a very dry climate. Yemen historically imported about 90 per cent of its core food types, and some of the infrastructure hit by airstrikes were ports that were critically important for food imports. One port which imported 70 per cent of this food was destroyed by the bombing. This very real crisis has brought the country to the edge of famine.
With 19.7 million people without access to safe water and sanitation facilities, good hygiene practices are also really low. This isn’t helped by the fact that Yemen has very sporadic rainfall, which has made successful agriculture even more difficult. Some leading academics have estimated that in two generations, due to environmental and conflict factors, the majority of Yemen will be completely uninhabitable.
Hospitals have been bombed, killing doctors and nurses and devastating the health infrastructure. Added to all this, an outbreak of cholera across the country is becoming very serious.
What needs to happen to resolve this crisis?
Overwhelmingly, there needs to be a political solution. Progress has to be made on the peace agreements. The lack of funding for this crisis makes it very difficult for humanitarian organisations to make a real impact, and the scale of the crisis means that in some ways much of the work we can do is just treading water. We really need a political solution so that humanitarian aid can continue to be effective, and so that rebuilding of Yemen can begin. At the moment, Yemen is collapsing in on itself.
What’s Tearfund’s involvement in Yemen?
Tearfund is still a small player in Yemen, partly because there is very little international funding for the country as it's such a hidden crisis. We have been trying to get supporter donations.
We've established some partnerships on the ground with some amazing organisations who are doing some really incredible work. We are focusing on water and sanitation, because with our relatively small budget it will have a more lasting impact.
We've distributed hygiene packs to families to help reduce the risk of and spread of disease. And we're about to fund a project which creates rainwater catchment rooftop systems, which basically sit on flat roofs and capture water and give families access to safe water for between 4-6 months. We're also looking to partner with other organisations to help them with any expertise they may need in their projects.
What could we do with more funding?
Tearfund has a lot of expertise to offer, particularly in the field of cash programming, and in water and sanitation. We would be able to fund more projects with our partners, and they could absorb a lot more funding than we currently have. To do this we are keen to mobilise our supporters, and mobilise people who could give and pray and advocate for this hidden crisis. We have the capacity to do a lot more. We've also got a strong voice in the humanitarian community with organisations like the DEC, and have been involved with influential groups within Parliament.
How important is it to get wide coverage in the media?
Very important. Funding for humanitarian crises often comes through media attention, and there are other crises which had more media attention in the past few months. There is a very stark contrast in terms of donations that Tearfund received for each.
What would your message be to Tearfund supporters today?
Give, pray, write, talk, shout from the rooftops!
There's a real temptation with such great need to feel quite overwhelmed and to feel that anything we pray for or give or do would be slightly tokenistic. But actually, what we believe is that God is so much bigger than all of these situations and that he really can have an impact in this situation.
I would certainly encourage every one of our supporters to take this issue to their church and ask their church to actively pray into this situation, because I just think that can make a huge difference.
Any closing thoughts?
What really strikes me is the sheer lack of choice that people have in this conflict. This is a totally man-made conflict.
In the midst of that, innocent people have been caught and robbed of their personal autonomy and capacity to control their own lives. Parents can't move their children out of areas that are being bombed, and parents don't have the choice to feed their children. A lot of families are living on just a diet of flour and that's it. That's all they have to eat: flour.
It’s just utterly broken my heart that the majority of the international community is so blind and have turned away from Yemen.
Please give now for people suffering in Yemen.
In the unlikely event that we raise more than is needed to support our partners, your gift will be spent where the need is greatest.
Photo credit: Ibrahem Qasim