The actress and international star Angelina Jolie, a UNHCR ambassador, has joined the appeal launched by Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations, which aims to raise $4.3 billion, an amount essential to help feed and treat millions of Yemeni victims of the war that has ravaged the country for eight years.
This conflict, an offshoot of the clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has already led to tens of thousands of deaths—including 10,000 children, as reported by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres—and has thrown Yemen into a “permanent humanitarian crisis.” On Wednesday, the donor countries’ conference organized by the UN to raise funds was scheduled to take place.
The Yemeni people are really at risk of starvation. Two-thirds of UN programs have been completely shut down or reduced in size due to the lack of funds and escalating fighting. Cuts in aid have resulted in reduced food rations for eight million people and reduced drinking water supplies.
“We are ready to support the Yemeni people—but we cannot do it alone. As a matter of moral responsibility, of human decency and compassion, of international solidarity, and of life and death, we must support the people of Yemen now,” Guterres said, addressing rich countries and urging them not to abandon the poorest of Arab countries. As per a statement put out a few days ago by the FAO, UNICEF and the World Food Programme, according to the Integrated Food Security Classification Scale (IPC), Yemen shows a high and persistent level of acute malnutrition among children under five.
Across the country, 2.2 million children are severely malnourished, and so are 1.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women. And 161,000 people will face starvation in the second half of 2022, a figure five times higher than the current one, showing catastrophic levels of famine.
The gravity of the humanitarian situation and the suffering of the population aren’t enough to stop the war between government forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition and the Shiite Houthi rebels supported by Iran. At the beginning of the year, the rebels’ advance towards the oil cities was stopped thanks to the intervention of mercenary forces under the orders of the Emirates, a development to which the Houthi responded by launching attacks with missiles and drones against Abu Dhabi. The situation on the ground right now is a stalemate.
The inability of either of the two sides to win the war has not yet produced concrete attempts to put an end to hostilities and allow room for negotiations. Therefore, the invitation that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an organization based in Riyadh, has addressed to Yemeni rebels to go to Saudi Arabia from March 29 to April 7 to discuss a ceasefire does not seem likely to succeed. Formal invitations to both parties are expected to go out in the coming days. The Houthis would be “guests” of the secretary general of the GCC, Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf.
However, the leading role played by Saudi Arabia is itself the main obstacle to the meeting. The fact that 81 people, half of them of Shiite faith, were executed by Riyadh on Saturday also weighs heavily. A senior Houthi official has already said that the group was unlikely to agree to go to the kingdom of Saud, which is an active participant in the war, continues to bomb Yemen with its planes and supports the government of Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, considered “corrupt” by the Shiite insurgents.
“Riyadh is a party in the war, not a mediator,” said Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee. However, these statements represent neither a confirmation nor a rejection of the invitation. It cannot be ruled out that the rebels might soften their position, perhaps under pressure from their sponsor, Iran. Tehran has been engaged in negotiations with Riyadh for months, mediated by Iraq, to ease the strong tensions between the two countries. Negotiations were supposed to resume this week, but were suspended after the mass executions carried out by the Saudis. Nevertheless, they will continue.
At this stage, Tehran, taking advantage of the focus on the war between Russia and Ukraine, has every interest in improving relations in the region and finalizing the new JCPOA agreement with the U.S. and other Western powers on its nuclear program, which is under discussion in Vienna.