A senior U.N. official warns that conditions for millions of Yemenis are horrendous and getting worse as prospects for a political solution remain elusive as the country enters its seventh year of conflict.
The United Nations has described Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The U.N. reports 20 million people or two-thirds of the population need humanitarian aid to survive, five million people are on the verge of famine and nearly 400,000 children are at imminent risk of death.
David Gressly is U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Yemen. Behind these numbers, he says are people struggling every day to find food to eat, clean water to drink and medicine to cure diseases.
Gressly says he has spent the last six months traveling the country trying to see what is happening on the ground, to see how people have managed to keep going under these conditions. Wherever he goes, he says, people grab him, eager to tell their stories.
“I would be told as they hold on to me—mothers talking about their children not having access to school,” said Gressley. “The fact that they face problems with landmines, the fisheries are no longer working so they do not have a livelihood. They cannot access water…This is a tragedy that goes all the way across Yemen. That kind of blockage to access to public services.”
Gressly says fighting continues along the frontlines and the devastation and evidence of economic collapse can be seen everywhere. He says the consequences of economic collapse are cruel and are driving the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe to new heights.
“What I worry about as much as anything right now is the lack of fuel for hospitals, for water systems, to keep those systems going,” said Gressley. “I worry about the fact that public servants do not get paid. How long will they continue to work? They have not been paid since last year. So, all of these things are slowly degrading the life of the average Yemeni.”
Yemen has been mired in civil war since 2014. The fighting involves the Yemeni government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Gressly says he believes the pattern of endless crisis in Yemen and people’s hope for a better future are achievable if three critical actions are taken. He says international donors must continue to support the humanitarian needs of the people in Yemen.
He says urgent efforts are needed to boost the country’s shattered economy so businesses and livelihoods can be restored. Lastly, he says strong efforts are required to support an inclusive political process that will finally bring peace to this devastated land. Experts say Yemeni civilians are being used as fodder by the government, Houthi rebels and their foreign enablers in their fight for control of the country.