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Yemen: The humanitarian tragedy

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has stated in recent days: “Yemen is in imminent danger of the worst famine in decades. Without immediate action, millions of lives may be lost. I urge all those with influence to act urgently and request that everyone avoids taking actions that could make a dire situation worse”.

The crisis, according to the United Nations, is the result of several factors.

First of all, of course, the impact of the armed conflict.

Subsequently certainly the strong reduction of economic funds provided to humanitarian operations in the country, the lack of external support to the Yemeni economy and the obstacles to the various agencies working to provide humanitarian aid.

To these factors must also be added environmental problems such as flooding and the effects of a very serious locust infestation that has affected the country.

António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, through that statement, called for urgent action to prevent a “catastrophe” and urged all parties to refrain from any action that could worsen the situation.

Guterres also warned against any “unilateral initiative” that could prove negative at such a fragile time, with the risk of famine and the UN trying to mediate for a political solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels.

The Secretary of the United Nations during a press conference underlined the fact that the United Nations is in close contact with all parties to try to bring them together, adopt a ceasefire and establish a political dialogue, in a moment when there is a “dramatic degradation of the humanitarian situation”.

The risk that is materializing on the horizon is a famine that “probably would have no parallel in recent history, with the exception of the famous famine in Ethiopia decades ago,” the Portuguese diplomat added.

Throughout November the UN emergency services had already warned of the danger of a major short-term famine in Yemen, where there are unprecedented levels of malnutrition in the population.

Acute malnutrition rates among children under 5 years of age, recorded in Yemen by FAO, Unicef and Word Food Programme and released last month, are the highest ever seen in some areas of the country and exceed 500,000 in southern districts.

In addition, David Beasley, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, recently stated during the UN Security Council that in Yemen “there is a toxic combination of increasing violence, a deepening economic and currency collapse and as if the spread of the Sars COVD-2 pandemic were not enough.

This explosive combination is taking misery to deeper and deeper levels.

The almost “uncontrolled” outbreak of coronavirus infection adds to the most serious cholera epidemic ever, in a country where half of the hospitals have been destroyed and the few in operation lack the equipment and personnel to meet the growing need for care.

The result is that 10 million Yemenis suffer from hunger, 20 million have no access to clean water and sanitation, 18 million are not receiving basic care.

In this context, the increase in fighting in Hodeidah is particularly worrying as its port is the access channel for 70% of all imports into Yemen.

In the general situation of a conflict that has already caused more than 100,000 victims including more than 12,000 civilians, only last August there was an air raid every ten days that hit hospitals and essential water infrastructure. The countries responsible for these raids are the members of the Saudi-led coalition that supports the internationally recognized government of Yemen.

Despite this dramatic context, however, the United Nations response plan for 2020, which is crucial to alleviate the suffering of a population 80% of which depends on international aid, is currently only 44% funded.

Similarly, the amount allocated by the G20 countries to humanitarian aid for the crisis in Yemen is not particularly large. On the contrary, it is absolutely lower when compared to the amount dedicated to weapons exports.

In fact, since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, in March 2015, the G20 countries have exported $17 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the country leading the coalition of countries responsible for all air raids in the country over the last 5 years.

This figure is three times higher than the humanitarian aid allocated by the G20 nations in question.

On the other hand, if we consider the sale of weapons to all eight countries that make up the Saudi-led coalition, the value of exports rises as high as $31.7 billion, or 5 times the volume of aid.

One of the countries that during these 5 years of conflict has exported the most weapons to the Middle East and more specifically to Saudi Arabia was Italy.

In fact, despite the fact that on 11 July 2019 Italy suspended the export of air bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for 18 months, it should be remembered that between 2015 and 2019 it authorised exports of armaments for a total value of about 845 million euros to Saudi Arabia, plus over 704 million euros to the United Arab Emirates.

Moreover, although no authorizations have been issued since mid-2019 on the materials specifically indicated in the government decision, on other types of armaments materials, 6 authorizations to Saudi Arabia for a total value of about €105 million and 25 authorizations to the United Arab Emirates for a total value of about €79 million were given the green light (between June 26 and December 31, 2019).

These Italian military commissions, towards countries at war, such as Saudi Arabia, are a slap in the face to Article 11 of the Italian Constitution which states: “Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes”.

At the UN Security Council on the crisis in Yemen, which took place in early November, UN  Emergency Relief Coordinator and OCHA chief Mark Lowcock said: “All of us – parties to the conflict, members of the Security Council, donors, humanitarian organizations and others – should do everything possible to stop this. Time is running out”.

“We risk a tragedy not only in the immediate loss of life, but will also have consequences that will reverberate indefinitely into the future,” said Antonio Gutierrez.

The hope is only one: that the international community will definitively abandon a logic based on the “profit of war”, to espouse a humanitarian duty that, if nothing else, this pandemic should have made more evident throughout the world.

By Michele Brunori

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