Analysis by Anant Mishra.
Amid conflict and chaos, Yemen is forced to face acute food insecurity and famine, which political scientists compare to the biggest famine in the Yemeni history. At the brink of war, many political scientists and military experts declared the Yemeni conflict “more complex than those in Syria and Libya”. In an effort to reinstate the legitimate, internationally recognized government in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its allies began conducting air raids against the Houthi rebels. The Houthi’s, which are Zaydi Shiites, predominantly supported by Iran, captured the capital Sana’a through an aggressive ground assault. They then began an assault in and around the Gulf of Aden. Determined to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, intelligence agencies picked up a chatter on prominent Al-Qaida forces regrouping in some territories occupied by Houthi rebels, in an effort to control some of the territories and unfurl the flag of jihad.
Yemen, a country in total chaos, holds the title of the poorest Arab state with inadequate food and clean water for its masses. Today, almost 50% of the population suffers from insecurity whereas over 70% of the masses have inadequate access to clean water. United Nations defines food security as “when masses have adequate access to food at all times and the quality of food is safe and sufficient and helps in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.” United Nations estimates that, in Yemen, over 13 million have inadequate access to food. With a nation gripped in civil war, fuel and food insecurity further deteriorates the lives of masses, who depend on international aid agencies for food imports; furthermore, Yemen is importing over 80% of food supplies, along with staple crops like wheat and rice.
It is also important to understand that food, clean water and medical aid didn’t reach the masses because of dangerous roads which has forced massive delays in delivery. With reasons pertaining to this, famine continues to tighten its grips on communities, which are not only vulnerable from the conflict, but remain vulnerable to food insecurity. Without adequate access to staple crop, clean water and medical help, people have no option but to survive in refugee camps, which too are running out of aid. Particularly with respect to a developing economy, famine not only hampers the socio-economic conditions but it completely compromises the state’s ability to combat poverty and hunger, particularly when the state itself is in flames of conflict.
With intense violence on streets and inadequate food and water supply, people are forced to commit acts of violence, while businesses have come to a full closure; the markets have closed, which caused exports and imports particularly in the agricultural sector to suffer. The conflict is accelerating, while international aid agencies and other agencies of the UN have been progressing in their efforts to reach the masses. However, UN and other development agencies have still not reached communities living in far deeper areas, and those in and around the conflict.
Policy makers need to ensure that, before they make it to deeper areas, it is imperative for them to reach the zones designated “safe” by security establishments. With intense fighting on the streets, the situation will create more obstacles for humanitarian agencies in their efforts to reach “each single soul”, which will further hinder their food assistance programs. It is imperative for international agencies to effectively and efficiently coordinate with regional civil society organizations, communities and policy makers on the international arena in an effort to prevent civilians from becoming collateral damage in the war.
The fear of intense violence and lack of economic opportunities continue to gather people along the coast of Yemen, in a desperate attempt to leave the country safe. Armed with dreams of spending lives in developed communities, they are prepared to seek refuge or asylum in any country that is willing to accept them and their families. Policy makers should note that these people are the most vulnerable, particularly in times of conflict. They are prone to extortion, trafficking and detention by immigration authorities. They are in desperate need of assistance from humanitarian agencies. As fighting intensifies in the southern states of Yemen, it is more likely for civilians to become collateral damage in air raids, cross fires and violence.
The conflict has forced the people to seek shelter in their homes, resulting in a completely isolation from the outside world, and making it extremely difficult to access food and other medical supplies. The risk is not just limited to Yemeni people but also includes humanitarian aid workers who have to be very careful when deployed in regions with continuing violence or post conflict. It is absolutely necessary for policy makers to liaise with international security establishments, along with regional and local authorities to prevent aid workers from becoming collateral damage as well.
As the time passes, the influx of refugees continues to multiply by thousands, further posing a challenge to food security. Whenever a nation suffers from a civil war, their senior political leadership and policy makers reach out to international communities, development aid agencies and international organizations such as the UN to intervene. Following the nation’s call, help pours in but it comes with a heavy price. The Security Council usually convenes, which sometimes results in economic sanctions. The sanctions severely reduce commercial capabilities of the host country. This creates a major hindrance for international aid workers to reach the civilian communities of the host country.
Incidents such as this happened in Yemen, where major international aid organizations failed to reach to over 13 million food insecure Yemenis. It is important for policy makers to make decisions based on real time assessment, while ensuring that the civilian communities are not left hanging. Policy makers should create effective and efficient assistance mechanisms for delivery of crucial food and other supplies.
The way forward
Today, Yemen has become the poorest, food insecure nation of the Arab world, suffering from intensive civil war. It is witnessing death and destruction of many innocent lives, and civilians continue to suffer from acute famine, malnutrition and poverty. The civil war alone is responsible for acute poverty as it is solely responsible for food shortages in the country, sowing the seeds of death and destruction of many. It is imperative for policy makers to address the situation of price rise, which is one of the main factors responsible for food insecurity. Moreover, there is a need to involve specialised experts in tackling food insecurity or famine, which then, can liaise effectively with local and regional civil society organizations and political actors.
This issue is not limited to non-government agencies; many international aid organizations coordinate with different aid workers, who are then expected to reach difficult, hard regions to distribute medical and food supplies, without fearing for their lives. In such volatile situations, the deployment of UN Peacekeeping forces would make a difference. However, the political leadership needs to take a strong stand against violence in any form carried by non-state actors and other government forces against civilian population. It is vital for policy makers to deal with the violence which humanitarian aid worker face. The fate of the people rests on the decisions made by policy makers, especially when the world looks towards them to respond.
Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations Security Council, and is now writing articles for a variety of magazines and papers from his base in New Delhi.