Apr 15, 2022 - World

War in Ukraine makes Yemen's humanitarian crisis even worse

A camp housing internally displaced people near Sana’a, Yemen.

A camp housing internally displaced people near Sana’a, Yemen. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

Even before Russia's invasion in Ukraine began to have ripple effects worldwide, Yemen was considered home to the "world's worst humanitarian crisis."

  • Today, as the war in Ukraine pushes global food and fuel prices to new highs, and the world mobilizes to aid Ukrainian refugees, humanitarian groups warn that the yearslong crisis in Yemen only stands to get much worse.

The big picture: In the more than seven years since fighting between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-back Houthi rebels began, hundreds of thousands have died of direct and indirect causes and more than 4.3 million people have been internally displaced.

  • An estimated 23.4 million people — about three in four people in Yemen — need assistance, and a growing number of them are coping with emergency levels of hunger, per the UN. 2.3 million children are acutely malnourished.

Driving the news: The protracted crisis was already worsening prior to Russia's invasion in mid-February, says Yasmin Faruki, a senior policy adviser with Mercy Corps who recently returned from a trip to Yemen.

  • The World Food Program said it was forced to reduce food rations for 8 million people in Yemen at the beginning of the year. "We have no choice but to take food from the hungry to feed the starving," WFP executive director David Beasley said last month.
  • Yemenis are "completely dependent on international assistance," Faruki explains, creating a "multiyear Band-Aid approach in which you can't really have sustainable infrastructure solutions."

Now, Yemen is not only contending with record food and fuel prices, but the war in Ukraine has had major effects on supply as well.

  • "We are doing more with less, and ... we're going in the direction of just having to do less with less," says Faruki.
  • The country relies almost entirely on food imports, with 30% of its wheat coming from Ukraine, per the UN humanitarian office.
  • At the same time, as the world turns its attention to the crisis in Ukraine, aid groups are facing funding shortfalls for their efforts in places like Yemen at levels not seen before. The UN last month raised less than a third of the $4.27 billion requested for its Yemen relief efforts.

While a two-month truce brokered by the UN gives cause for cautious optimism, humanitarian groups say the lack of international attention is still dangerous.

  • "What differentiates Yemen from other contexts that we're looking at now that are getting a lot of attention is that this is a protracted conflict," Faruki says.
  • "We're coming up on almost a decade of conflict, of no access to resources, of limited access to education, health care services, nutrition, water," she adds. "The cascading effects that this has on generations of Yemenis, I can't even put into words."

The bottom line: The world has rightly responded to the growing crisis in Ukraine, aid groups say, but that can't mean nations ignore crises elsewhere.

  • "It's repugnant and unacceptable that we would just kind of turn our backs on people who have been suffering for way too long," Faruki says.

Go deeper: UN leaders urge the world to not forget about other global crises

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