Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What Next After Humanitarians’ Pleadings for Yemen?

July 28 - Saudi-led coalition strikes Sana’a city in retaliation of a missile fired by Houthi forces.
Courtesy: Ahmed, at Twitter.

This week, the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen received a great deal of focus in several international media outlets, as the president of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, the director general of World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom and the executive director of World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley paid a short visit to different parts of Yemen; meeting officials (former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen’s prime minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr) and doing field visits to hospitals and internally displaced people’s camps. Also, BBC team was able to reach Aden and report on the cholera epidemic.

Meetings with Yemen’s prime minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, in Aden, Yemen. 

Meetings with former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen.

As much as these efforts are needed and appreciated as they bring extensive media coverage along, I am concerned about what’s next? Would all this media focus create urgency for internal warring parties and the international community to resolve the conflict? Is this media coverage like a temporary pain killer and shortly Yemen once again, as both humanitarian and political crisis, gets swept under the rug?

Aden, Yemen - “If you remember nothing of #Yemen remember Hussein Mazen Hussein - malnourished and fighting for every breath.” Courtesy: BBC, Orla Guerin.

There have been many other previous pleadings by leading international humanitarians about Yemen over the course of the nearly three-years-long war, however, it has not even achieved securing the full delivery of promised donations from states in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The pleadings have not even achieved securing safe, un-costly and smooth travel access for Yemenis to and from both Aden and Sana’a airports.

Aden Yemen - “The Awal family in the wreckage of their home - hit by two Saudi air strikes. Some of them still live in the ruins.” Courtesy: BBC, Orla Guerin.

Most of the international and UN humanitarians arrive in Yemen with very exclusive and special access because of their privileges, while thousands of Yemenis are trapped in neighbouring countries because they can’t afford the costly and risky trip to reach Sana’a or Aden. As Sana’a airport is very often closed or has restrictions imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, Yemenis are forced to take an exhausting trip with a couple of connecting flights or travelling with boats to reach Aden or Sayoun then take the bus to reach Sana’a or Aden or other cities. The possibility for Yemenis to get a visa to travel, if they can afford it, or, say, if they were invited to attend international events, is very slim. Embassies are closed inside the country and one has to take the complicated and exhausting trip to reach few neighbouring countries which allow Yemenis’ entry, then apply for the visa. The most savage blockade is imposed into Taiz by Saleh and Houthis’ forces for more than two years now. Even if everything fails, at least, the international humanitarians must focus on the necessity to life blockades and secure safe mobility for Yemeni civilians.

I was about to be hopeful of the potential impact the leading humanitarians could have into the trajectory of the conflict resolution until this happened. Just when the international humanitarians were departing from Yemen, Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis close to Mecca. At the same day, at the night, the Saudi-led coalition struck Sana’a in retaliation. This reflects the gap between the humanitarian efforts tackling Yemen and the military escalation between the warring parties. How can we expect to achieve progress in the humanitarian level while the political aspect of the conflict is overlooked? I understand politics is not the job of humanitarians and that’s why it’s crucial to combine efforts on the humanitarian level along with the political/peace talk level.

After the humanitarians plead, politicians must take action and not merely deliver statements. Yemenis’ agony doesn’t only rightfully deserve an extensive media coverage, but also both humanitarian and political efforts.

This piece was published first on HuffPost on the 29th of July, 2017.