According to the UN, Yemen is the “worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world”: dengue, polio and malaria are being added to a century-long famine. The largest cholera epidemic ever recorded in human history is rampant, and the Corona is also thought to have spread throughout the country. More than 80 percent of people are in need of humanitarian aid. But less than half of the un’s micro-billion-dollar sum this year for its dozens of aid programs in Yemen has been transferred. The rich donor countries are refusing to honour their commitments. The world is collectively turning its back on the country – this is not indifference, it is not a mere disinterest, it is murder by omission.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states on its website that it will need a total of 3.38 billion U.S. dollars for all UN programs to ensure the survival of 29 million people in Yemen by 2020. The year is coming to an end, and less than 50 percent of this amount has been transferred – only 1.6 billion have arrived by December 10. The governments of 194 countries and countless foundations and NGOs around the world have been unable to scrape together a few billion dollars to counteract what the UN says is the “worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world” and to prevent a further escalation of the human tragedy – in order to ensure millions of people in the war-torn country at least the daily calories that ensure survival. Twenty-four million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance – more than 80 percent of the population. The indifference of the world and the refusal to help will lead to the death of many of these people.
As donors refuse to provide their promised aid to Yemen, the half of the more than 40 UN programmes in the country has already had to be completely stopped or drastically scaled back. As early as April, eight million people had their food rations halved, and millions more will follow. Special treatments for hundreds of thousands of women and girls traumatised by war have been discontinued. More than 300 hospitals have already had to stop some or all of the treatment, and the supply of medicines and supplies from 2,500 clinics is about to expire, representing half of all health facilities in Yemen. People will die again from the simplest diseases. Countless malnourished children are cut off from food supplies. All this is happening in times of corona, which the UN believes has already spread throughout the country. However, as the Saudi-Emirate coalition bombs every civilian infrastructure imaginable in Yemen, even rudimentary monitoring of the Corona situation in the country is unthinkable. A century-old famine is raging in Yemen, and besides dengue, polio and malaria, the largest cholera epidemic ever recorded in human history is rampant. And the world is collectively turning its back on the country – this is not indifference, it is not a mere disinterest, it is murder by omission.
Lise Grande, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said: “This is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, but we don’t have the resources we need to save these people. They will suffer and will die if we do not help.”
Who pays what?
Mark Lowcock, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, also told CNN about the psychological impact of missing payments on local people: “I find it particularly reprehensible for countries that made contributions last year and promised new contributions for this year not to pay now. First they give people hope that help will surely come soon, and then they do not pay and thus destroy people’s hopes.”
Of the 1.6 billion dollars already received in 2020, 1.3 billion were raised from a total of 33 governments and another 300 million from 35 organizations and foundations (most of them other UN agencies). At 530 million dollars, the US is the largest donor this year (down by a third on the previous year), followed by Saudi Arabia with 330 million (down by three-quarters), Germany with 171 million (down by almost two-fifths) and the United Kingdom with 147 million (down by a third). I do not want to speculate on the intentions of these payments, which are at least formally high, but we should keep in mind that the governments of these four countries are, in one way or another, the main culprits for the misery in Yemen. The governments of other rich countries should, in view of the sums they have donated to combat the “world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe”, With shame in the ground: Switzerland (10.7 million US dollars), France (6.5 million), Russia (4 million), Denmark (1.1 million), Qatar (0.8 million), Spain (0.4 million), Czech Republic (0.3 million), Lithuania, Bulgaria and Cyprus each around 55,000 and the unashamedly rich Vatican, its starving sisters and brothers in Yemen were worth the divinely generous sum of 7,500 dollars.
In a mix of Orwell’s new speak and Trump’s alternative facts, a spokesman for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is the second driving force in the war against Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia and has not donated a single penny, told CNN: “The UAE’s commitment to the Yemeni people is unwavering – the UAE will continue to be one of the largest donors to Yemen in the future. as long as this support is required'.
Misery as a political pawn
In the last two years of the war in 2018 and 2019, 19 and 13 percent respectively of the funds needed for the UN aid programmes in Yemen remained undiscovered, this year the figure is as high as 52 percent of missing transfers by the deadline of December 10.
The slump hits people in the north of the country – those in the Houthi rebels' ancestral and conquered areas around the capital Sana’a as far north as the Yemeni-Saudi border – especially hard, as aid programs in the rebel-held areas are always the first to be stopped. The Houthis have often been accused in the past of politicizing international aid by diverting or strategically holding back supplies and thus using it as a means of political pressure. Rebel spokesmen categorically reject the allegations as expected, but credible reports and sources say such cases have been repeated. There is no question that the Houthis' actions are strongly condemned, but it can never be used as justification for stopping future aid.
The three driving warring parties, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and the United States, are using these very accusations against the Houthis as a pretext for their lack of or greatly reduced payments. If, for their part, these countries do not honour their financial commitments, they will use the very same shameful tactic of politicizing humanitarian aid that they accuse the Houthi rebels of. Although a completely different context, the underlying mindset reminds me of the EU’s refugee policy, which also politicizes emergency rescue when strategically weighing whether people should be rescued or drowned in the Mediterranean – people killed by omission as political signals.
The various UN agencies in Yemen must immediately be provided with the necessary financial resources to save millions of people in northern Yemen from the threat of starvation. The instrumentalisation of aid deliveries and payments in order to build political pressure on this or that party is morally deeply reprehensible and those responsible must be ostracised. Humanitarian aid must never become a game chip on the poker table of the powerful, because the victims of these political power skirmishes are the starving children, women and men in Yemen. Their desperate misery is degraded to a mere power-political pledge.
Change of perspective
When we deal with billions of dollars, it is difficult or impossible for the human brain not to lose touch with reality – or rather, to make this connection in the first place. Whether there are eleven or fifteen zeros behind the 1, it does not change our inability to actually put these figures in any relation to real things: what do you spontaneously estimate, how long will 100 people be fed up with spaghetti with tomato sauce worth EUR 1 billion? Our Stone Age brain was not designed by evolution for such dimensions. But it may well help to understand large numbers if we put them in relation to other large numbers.
The USD 3.38 billion needed for UN aid programmes in Yemen in 2020 represents 1.8 percent of the assets of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (186 billion), the world’s richest person. Or what Bezos accumulates in additional wealth every 16 days. The UN aid needed for Yemen also represents 1.3 percent of the annual sales of the 15 largest armaments companies in the world, downfrom what they do every five days with the sale of their killing tool. The amount needed for Yemen is still a meagre 0.04 percent of household wealth in Germany (6.3 trillion euros), or what the world’s governments spend every 15 hours on the military. So if Jeff Bezos were to give up his wealth growth for only 16 days, or German households would not give up half a millimetre of their assets, or the big armaments companies would donate their sales for five days, or the world would not put money into the military for 15 hours: no one would have to die of hunger in Yemen for a whole year, and 29 million Yemenis could live in conditions. , which would at least come remotely close to what we would call a life of dignity.
Since the start of the war in March 2015, the German government has sold €12.6 billion worth of weapons systems to countries waging war against Yemen – and this year, by comparison, paid 171 million euros for UN aid in Yemen. In other words, in 2020, the federal government will spend a meagre percentage of what it has sold in five years for the destruction of the country on behalf of German armaments companies to supply the victims who have produced their weapons in Yemen. With its aid payments, it may be altruistic and generous – it is, after all, the third largest single donor – but these payments, if you look closely, are only two things: the attempt to wash away her own Yemen vest, and thus the mockery of the people on the ground, the mockery of their suffering.
Our priorities as an economy, as a state, and also as a society, are not up to any scrutiny, at least not by rudimentary standards of humanity and empathy. If we ever had one, we lost our moral compass a long time ago. No, the people of Yemen don’t care. The world has long let Yemen down, it has betrayed it.