Q: How would you describe the humanitarian situation in Yemen right now?
A: The country has been in a state of large-scale humanitarian crisis since the war started between Houthi and supporters of the Yemeni government in 2015. However, even long before the conflict, the country was the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula. Finding food is a daily struggle for millions of people with widespread malnutrition as a result – especially among children. Approximately 370 000 children under the age of five are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Another one million are estimated to be moderately acute malnourished. Over 3.1 million people – more than 10% of the entire population – have been internally displaced; the healthcare system is in shambles and the economy in freefall. In spite of this, Yemen remains a largely forgotten crisis.
Q: What is the EU doing to help?
A: Across Yemen, EU humanitarian aid is assisting people who are affected by the conflict. Through our numerous humanitarian partners we provide food, shelter, water, health, cash assistance and other life-saving emergency help. The needs are massive and the EU recently allocated an additional €40 million in assistance to Yemen. This brings the total EU humanitarian funding to the country to €120 million since the beginning of the conflict.
Q: What are the specific challenges of bringing humanitarian aid to those in need?
A: Access to populations in need remains a major challenge, according to the EU's humanitarian aid partners. Yemen is extremely volatile with a range of active armed factions, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and elements affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS). Fighting between the Houthi and Yemeni government troops is still ongoing on many fronts. All of this puts humanitarian workers at severe risk and hampers the delivery of humanitarian supplies.
Q: The Yemeni health system is on the brink of collapse. What are your observations?
A: I visited the Al Kuwait hospital in the centre of the capital, Sana’a. Like any other health facility in Yemen, the hospital is under enormous strain. It is a crowded public hospital with overworked staff. The pharmacy shelves were stocked with only the most basic types of medication and in minimal quantities. Without the support of the EU and its partners, there would be no medication at all, according to the hospital director. The minister of health appointed by the Houthi, Dr. Ghazi Ismail, told me that the country’s healthcare budget is so seriously underfunded that operational costs of hospitals can barely be met. Many doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers haven’t been paid in months, yet they still continue to come to work. Overall, the Yemeni healthcare system – and the country as a whole – will require robust and sustained support from the international community for many years to come; the EU will be at the forefront of that support.