Economic fallout from Yemen conflict deepens humanitarian crisis

Houthi rebels are intensifying ‘brutal offensive’ in Marib province

A Yemeni carries his share of food aid provided by an aid agency amid heightened food insecurity in Sana’a, Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

A Yemeni carries his share of food aid provided by an aid agency amid heightened food insecurity in Sana’a, Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

 

Escalating warfare has driven Yemen’s economy to the brink of collapse, rendering Yemenis destitute and deepening the country’s humanitarian crisis, the UN Security Council has been told.

UN assistant secretary general Ramesh Rajasingham blamed the rising violence on several factors, including an intensification by Houthi rebels of their “brutal offensive” in Marib province and clashes among rival armed groups in government-held Aden port.

Fighting, shelling and air strikes have also continued along 50 front lines, killing and injuring 235 civilians across the country in September, the second highest toll in two years, he said.

“More than 20 million people – two-thirds of the population – need assistance from aid agencies,” he said. Agencies are currently helping 13 million, recently increased from 10 million.

Mr Rajasingham said the expansion of assistance had been achieved by an injection of donor funds but warned these agencies “don’t have enough money to keep going at the required scale” and could cut food supplies to four to five million people by year’s end.

“We are calling on everyone to do everything possible to sustain the momentum we’ve built over the last several months and keep famine at bay,” he told the council.

Gap in trust

Yemen normally imports 90 per cent of its needs but fewer goods are reaching its ports and entering the country. Due to the Saudi blockade of Houthi-held Hodeidah port, shortages are, reportedly, most acute in the Houthi-ruled north, where the majority of Yemenis live. The value of Yemen’s currency has fallen dramatically and fuel imports have plunged by 64 per cent.

Recently appointed UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg, who has held meetings with all sides, said the gap in trust between warring parties was “wide and growing”. While progress could be secured on humanitarian economic issues, urgent talks on a political settlement were essential for halting economic collapse, he said.

Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been gripped by civil conflict since 2014 when Houthis seized control of the capital, Sana’a, and the north and forced the Saudi-supported government to flee to Aden and then to relocate to Riyadh.

After a US-backed Saudi-Emirati coalition intervened in March 2015 with the aim of returning president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power, Iran stepped up political backing for the Houthis and provided them with limited weaponry, pushing the civil conflict towards becoming a stalemate proxy war.

Before agreeing to a ceasefire and talks, the Houthis are seeking to gain the upper hand by capturing Marib city, a hub of Yemen’s oil and gas industry. Fighting in Marib province has displaced 10,000 in the past month, the UN migration agency reported.

The UN estimates four million Yemenis have been displaced and 130,000 killed, of whom 12,000 were civilians.