Yemen: Efforts to bring stability could fail unless basic needs are met, warns UN

15 July, 2013
2013, Taiz, Yemen: Young girls collect water in Taiz in Yemen's south-west. The UN is appealing for US$702 million to assist approximately 7.7 million Yemenis affected by violence. Credit: OCHA/Abdulelah Taqi
2013, Taiz, Yemen: Young girls collect water in Taiz in Yemen's south-west. The UN is appealing for US$702 million to assist approximately 7.7 million Yemenis affected by violence. Credit: OCHA/Abdulelah Taqi

The UN has warned that efforts to find a political solution to the insecurity that has plagued Yemen since 2011 could be undermined unless support for humanitarian programmes is quickly and dramatically increased.

This warning came as UN agencies and partners released their revised humanitarian appeal for 2013. The revised plan now calls for US$702 million to assist approximately 7.7 million Yemenis. The original plan released at the end of 2012 called for $716 million. The slight decrease is partly the result of some unfunded projects that were intended for the first half of the year. So far, only about 38 per cent of funds needed have been received.

“The ongoing political transition (has) overshadowed the humanitarian crisis,” said Mr. OuldCheikh Ahmed, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen. “Our fear is that any movement towards stability could collapse unless people’s very basic needs are met.”

Mr. Ahmed’s warning echoes that of the Secretary-General’s Humanitarian Envoy for Kuwait, Dr. Abdullah Al-Matouq, who visited Yemen at the beginning of July.

“Yemen is going through a period of political transition, but the humanitarian situation remains serious with millions of vulnerable people in urgent need of emergency and early recovery assistance,” said Dr. Al-Matouq.

“There can be no sustainable transition unless their basic humanitarian needs are met. This crisis could affect the recent political achievements unless it is comprehensively addressed.”

A humanitarian “red line”

Two years of unrest and instability have left approximately 13 million people – about half of the entire population – in need of humanitarian assistance. Many basic services have collapsed, and levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition have all risen sharply.

Given the considerable needs and slow donor response, the UN has taken the unusual step of producing a list of activities that it considers most critical. These critical humanitarian projects add up to almost $209 million – about 40 per cent of the $528 million still needed to implement the response plan.

“For us, these activities represent the humanitarian ‘red line’ for Yemen,” continued Mr Ahmed. “These are what we need to urgently deliver. They will save the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable Yemenis.

“I urge international and regional donors to provide funding for these critical activities that will have an immediate impact.”

Window of opportunity

Humanitarian needs have remained high since the end of last year when the humanitarian appeal was first launched. However, improved stability and the ongoing reform process have opened a window of opportunity for humanitarian partners to contribute to a sustainable improvement of people’s lives.

In the south of the country, more than 90 per cent of people who had fled violence have now returned home. But Mr. Ahmed argues that for the return of displaced people to be sustainable, humanitarian and development agencies need to focus their efforts on building the capacity of returnees to withstand any future threats or challenges by, for example, restoring damaged infrastructure and basic services, clearing land mines and re-establishing law and order.

“We have an opportunity to help people settle back into their lives, and become more resilient against new challenges,” said Mr Ahmed. “But this window of opportunity may not stay open for long.”

Situation in the north remains precarious

For people in the north, the situation is more uncertain. About 300,000 people there are displaced, and chances of them returning home soon are remote. While they urgently need basic services, more durable solutions to this protracted displacement crisis are also needed. Authorities have recently adopted a national policy on IDPs that seeks to protect people who have been forced from their homes, and that seeks to find safe, voluntary and permanent solutions to displacement.

The situation in Yemen is likely to worsen with news that tens of thousands of Yemenis are expected to return from Saudi Arabia following a crackdown on undocumented workers by the Saudi authorities. Their return will place further pressure on scarce resources and basic services, and will add to pressure on households who rely on remittances for their livelihoods.

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