Many emergency needs still unmet amid long-term damage to country’s economy.
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
As a five-day humanitarian cease-fire in Yemen passed the halfway point on Friday, the prospects for meeting the country’s emergency needs, let alone its long-term recovery, appeared dim.
Nearly two months of Saudi airstrikes and fighting with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has pushed one of the world’s poorest countries deeper into poverty, destroyed the country’s economic lifelines and deprived aid organizations of the infrastructure they need to distribute food and medical supplies. Fighting has destroyed or damaged three airports, at least eight hospitals and several food supply depots, according to two international aid groups.
Three seaports serving as the main entry for relief assistance into Yemen are damaged and struggling to handle shipments from Djibouti, aid groups said Friday. That has hampered deliveries of emergency food and medical supplies during the five-day cease-fire, which is set to expire late Sunday. There are no indications the truce will be extended.
“The escalation of conflict has only deepened the crisis, and the country is on the breaking point,” said Johannes van der Klaauw, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. “Humanitarian aid cannot bring the country back up. There needs to be a long term reconstruction and development plan.”
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have also blunted some aid efforts. Saudi forces turned away several attempts by Iran to airlift humanitarian aid to the airport in San’a, the Yemeni capital.
Riyadh has promised to block any attempt by an Iranian Red Crescent ship currently en route to Yemen to unload its cargo without being searched for weapons, a shipment Iranian authorities said Thursday was coordinated with the United Nations. On Friday, the U.N. urged Saudi Arabia to speed up its inspection of aid shipments, which has hindered the delivery of supplies.
For the Arab world’s poorest nation, the longer-term challenges for recovery are even more daunting.
Hayel Saeed Anam Group, one of the country’s largest employers, has halted production at its factories that churn out everything from textiles to sugar. The consortium has had to lay off 2,000 employees, while a fuel shortage across Yemen means most staff can’t commute to work.
Saudi airstrikes also destroyed a mall, hotel and various factories owned by the conglomerate, while Houthi rebels and ground militias loyal to the Riyadh-led coalition have harassed their employees, according to two executives who requested anonymity, fearing intimidation from militants on all sides. The executives say the group has lost up to $500 million in damages to company property.
Even companies that weren’t attacked cannot currently operate because of the absence of electricity and diesel,” one of the executives complained. “The whole country is handicapped and the private sector is losing hundreds of millions of dollars every day due to war.”
At least 828 civilians have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign in Yemen on March 26, the U.N. said Tuesday. The deaths have come from both aerial bombardment and rebel fire. Riyadh cobbled together a regional coalition to thwart the Houthis after rebels overran the southern seaport of Aden and forced Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.
Yet the fighting has pushed many Yemenis deeper into poverty. Before the fighting, about 40% of Yemenis were unemployed according to the World Bank, while nearly half the population of 24 million lacks regular access to food. By 2017, San’a could become the world’s first capital to run out of water, according to the U.N.
Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Aseeri, a spokesman for the coalition, said the country has extended $10 billion to Yemen in security and economic assistance since 2009. Riyadh has promised $514 million of humanitarian aid to Yemen since launching its air campaign. But Brig. Gen. al-Aseeri says Saudi Arabia isn’t discussing broader reconstruction plans for the country yet. Security must come first, he says.
Aid groups say the civilian and economic infrastructure damage will easily reach billions of dollars, although a more precise estimate is hard to come by as fighting has hindered their mobility across Yemen.
Without an ambitious rebuilding effort, Yemen is likely to slip back into the same web of problems that have fueled the country’s conflicts since the 1960s: competition for scarce resources, unfettered corruption and bored, jobless youth who pick up arms.
When a Houthi military installation was erected some 5 kilometers from the Hayel Saeed Anam Group’s National Cement Company in southern Lahij province, managers pleaded with the rebels to move, with no luck. In March, the cement company was hit by several Saudi airstrikes, killing 26 employees and wounding dozens more. At the time, the kingdom blamed the attack on Houthi fire.
“We have been serving Yemen for over 70 years and in the past [wars] refused to be involved with any of the conflicting sides,” said a manager at the conglomerate, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “Everything has been targeted, companies, factories, ports, and even roads. The rebuilding process won’t be a quick one.”