The world’s largest food security emergency is currently unfolding in Yemen. The country has been devastated by a war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement. An estimated 22.2 million people (i.e; 80% of the population) in need of humanitarian assistance or protection, including 11.3 million who are in acute need – an increase of more than one million people in acute need since June 2017. The country is also suffering the world’s largest and fastest-spreading outbreak of cholera in modern history, with one million suspected cases expected by the end of 2017 and at least 600,000 children likely to be affected.
In 2017, Yemen is considered the world's largest humanitarian crisis both in terms of absolute numbers of people and proportion of total population in need. Millions of Yemenis are affected by a triple man-made tragedy: the brutal armed conflict, a looming famine and the world's largest ever single-year cholera outbreak. All parties to the conflict have repeatedly violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and civilian infrastructure has been subject to attack. Reports of grave violations of child rights and gender-based violence have increased. Despite the tremendous scale of humanitarian needs, the country remains a neglected crisis, both financially and politically.
The government is no longer able to deliver basic services such as healthcare, nutrition services, water and electricity supply, and social safety net services to people in need. The humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating as a result of spiralling violence in Sana’a and access restrictions imposed by the Saudi-led military coalition in the north since 6 November 2017. Import of basic food items, medicine and fuel have become more difficult and costlier as a result of increasing restrictions imposed. Water and power plants, factories, markets and shops stopped functioning in many locations, or have been damaged by the war. Salaries of public servants in Houthi controlled areas have not been paid for over a year, inflation and a liquidity crisis further expose civilains to poverty and destitution. According to the UN, unless all restrictions on imports are lifted immediately, Yemen will witness the largest famine of the last decades.
During 2015 and 2016, the EU has allocated €120 million in humanitarian aid to the Yemen crisis. In 2017, the EU has provided €76.7 million in life-saving assistance to the Yemeni populations. During the April 2017 pledging conference in Geneva, Commissioner Christos Stylianides announced €46 million in humanitarian aid; in July, an additional €5.7 million was made available for cholera response; further €25 million were allocated in December 2017 for distribution of food and nutritional complements by the World Food Programme (WFP) as well as humanitarian logistical and transport capacity by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS). This brings the total of EU humanitarian aid to Yemen since the beginning of the conflict to €196.7 million.
EU humanitarian aid prioritises health, nutrition, food security—including the support for therapeutic feeding centres where malnourished children are treated—protection, shelter, and water and sanitation as a means to respond to the effects of the conflict and the collapse of basic public services. An additional €70 million is being mobilised in EU development aid in 2017 to support resilience and early recovery.
However, the immediate needs of the people are continuously growing. In the absence of a ceasefire and a durable political solution, the food security situation will further deteriorate, more children will become malnourished, new disease outbreaks will occur, and the country’s institutions—including its public health and sanitation infrastructure, and the banking system—will totally collapse. Humanitarian actors are struggling to meet the increasing needs to reduce the suffering of the civilian population. The 2017 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) amounts to US$2.3 billion and targets 12 million people. As of December 2017, a total of $1.37 billion has been committed towards the YHRP 2017 — a mere 58%.
The EU has repeatedly urged the Coalition to ensure immediate resumption of UN flights and the opening of land borders and ports for humanitarian relief and basic commercial commodities. The delivery of life-saving supplies is critical for the Yemeni population and must be facilitated by all parties to the conflict.
The EU reiterates its firm belief that there cannot be a military solution to the conflict. Violence will just protract the horrific suffering of millions of civilians. The EU calls on all the parties to respect International Humanitarian Law, to urgently agree on a cessation of hostilities, and engage in a negotiation process.