Aden, Yemen, March 26, 2020 — Today marks five years since the deadly war in Yemen began and despite the promising agreement reached in Stockholm in December 2018, it still rages on. To avert further suffering in Yemen, international engagement is essential. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on all parties to the conflict and their partners, to agree to a nationwide ceasefire and deliver on agreements reached while peace talks for a more permanent solution are brokered. Beyond funding, the need for diplomatic leadership to bring the virus to heel has never been more obvious. Governments should heed the call of the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire: the longer bombs are dropping and civilians are forced to flee, the more fertile the ground for this virus to spread.
The five year conflict has left over a quarter million civilians dead and destroyed the economy, health, education and basic infrastructure. Now, a full 80 percent of the Yemeni people are in need of humanitarian aid including food, shelter, health care, education and employment. The warring parties have established unprecedented impediments to aid delivery last year, reaching a point that some donors are suspending funding for important programs in Northern Yemen starting tomorrow, despite lethal violence and an imminent COVID-19 outbreak. The IRC calls on all parties to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and remove all bureaucratic barriers that keep aid from reaching desperate Yemenis nationwide.
Tamuna Sabadze, Yemen Country Director at the International Rescue Committee said, “It is outrageous that warring parties have allowed this lethal conflict to rage on for five years while millions of Yemenis are displaced and hundreds of thousands have died due to fighting, bombings and an appalling scarcity of food and health care. Potential progress seen towards the end of last year has crumbled. Fighting is on the rise again and threatens a return to large-scale conflict and more humanitarian suffering.
“Despite the IRC’s humanitarian work across Yemen, families still starve, children can’t go to school, and families lack access to health care while facing rampant unemployment in a collapsed economy. Now, we have a global Coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm an already broken health care system. If we fail to contain the virus in Yemen - already battling the largest cholera outbreak in history - we risk inestimable civilian suffering.
“It is too late to change the past five years, but with sustained international engagement and robust energetic diplomacy 2020 can be a year of peace, safety and security for Yemeni families. Warring parties must immediately institute a ceasefire and remove any impediments to allow for humanitarian aid to flow unfettered to the people. This is a first step to stemming the starvation, treating the sick, and allowing some relief to save lives. Any ceasefire must be accompanied by a good faith effort to restore a lasting peace. Western governments could wield their significant diplomatic influence to end this crisis. Even after five long years, peace is still possible and the Yemeni people hope the world does not fail them yet again.
After five years of war, more than 12,000 civilians have been killed in the line of fire, and more than 230,000 have died due to indirect consequences. A failure to act now will trap millions of civilians in a cycle of instability and aid dependence. A recent IRC report has demonstrated it will take 20 years for Yemen to reach pre-war levels of hunger – already among the worst in the world. Failure to secure peace will cost donors $29 billion over the next five years.
The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012 and rapidly scaled our programming in 2015 to address greater humanitarian need caused by the conflict. While the ongoing war and restrictions of air and seaports create challenges to our operations, the IRC’s 475 staff and 740 paid volunteers in Yemen have maintained access to affected populations and continue to provide life-saving healthcare, economic empowerment, women’s and child protection and empowerment, and education programming.