Immediately after landing, one can’t help but notice the tanks and large sand bags all over the tarmac.
It is a stark reminder of a conflict that is now entering its fourth year and has devastated the country. The human impact of the conflict can hardly be overstated. Over the past six weeks, it has become even worse as a deep, rapidly unfolding economic crisis has gripped the country.
If a famine takes hold in Yemen, it will be “much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives,” the top UN humanitarian official, Mark Lowcock, warned the UN Security Council in October.
This economic crisis is the main reason why the risk of famine is now growing. Since September, the Yemeni currency has depreciated by 20 per cent – bringing total depreciation over the past year to nearly 50 per cent. Because Yemen imports 90 per cent of its staple food and nearly all fuel and medicine, prices have soared. Food is more than twice as expensive since the crisis started. Very few Yemenis have any source of income, meaning many can’t cope with the price hikes. Since 2015, the economy has shrunk by half, and more than 80 per cent of Yemenis now live below the poverty line. If current trends continue, the total number of people facing pre-famine conditions could rise to 14 million – or half the country’s population.
The fierce battle for Hudaydah, which escalated in June 2018, is also bringing Yemen closer to the brink. Most of Yemen’s imports come through Hudaydah and nearby Saleef ports. Millions of people depend on these ports for the goods they need to survive, and keeping them open and operational is essential. Roads and civilian infrastructure must also remain open and safe for travel so essential goods can reach markets across the country.
The magnitude of the relief operation is striking: about 8 million people across the country receive direct assistance from the UN and partners every month.
Managing such a large operation requires care to ensure that aid is reaching the people who need it. WFP and its implementing partner Relief International have put in place a digital system to support this process from beginning to end. They use a cloud-based solution called SCOPE to register beneficiaries, set up programmes, plan distributions and report results.
THE PLIGHT OF DISPLACEMENT
One of the most blatant signs of the war’s impact lies in the mass population movements that have wracked the country since 2015.
Some 2.3 million people remain internally displaced across the country.
More than 3 million people have experienced the shock of displacement since conflict escalated nearly four years ago. Today, about 2.3 million people remain displaced from their homes.
This number has been increasing recently. Since 1 June alone, escalating conflict has forced more than 570,000 people from their homes across Hudaydah Governorate. Emergency programmes have reached nearly all Hudaydah IDPs with relief packages containing food rations, hygiene supplies and items to preserve dignity. Additional assistance is also provided based on assessed needs.
Many displaced people count on the help of friends and relatives, but even with these informal support networks, many still need external help. This is the case, for example, ofAmeen Hassan Hamanah,who fled from Hudaydah with his family early in 2018. The roof of his house was damaged by the war. “My mother and my sisters were scared,” he recalls. He used to have a steady income – he was a public worker – but erratic salary payments in the public sector, coupled with damage to his house caused by the conflict, left him no choice. “We have relatives here [in Aden]. They helped us find this house for little rent. The landlord is very nice. We can pay whenever we have money.” With the sale of his brother’s motorcycle, he paid a bus driver to move his whole family south.
The house where he currently resides with his parents, three siblings and their respective families is a modest apartment perched atop of one of the poorest sections of Aden, the Radfan area of the Almualla district.
At night, 17 members of the same family sleep in just two rooms.
Nowadays, he and his brothers make ends meet by collecting empty plastic bottles and containers and selling them for change. Their situation has improved considerably since a UNHCR team visited them. “They came by, they interviewed us about our employment situation, how we pay rent,” says Ameen. “Then a few days later we received a text message: ‘Your cash transfer is ready.’”
With UNHCR’s cash-for-rent programme, Ameen was able to lift a heavy load off his shoulders. Despite being on good terms with the landlord, he was concerned about being several months behind on his rent. “Now we only have to think about daily expenses,” he says.
Yet, the search for better employment opportunities is still at the top of Ameen’s priorities. He is especially worried about not being able to provide a future for his children, who have been out of school since they left Hudaydah: “We cannot afford tuition, or transportation and expenses.”