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Yemen faces ‘extremely worrying outlook’, says UNDP chief

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Doha (AFP) – War-torn Yemen faces “extremely troubling prospects” after a serious escalation between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia, the head of the United Nations Development Program warned on Sunday.

Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator, also told AFP that the impoverished country risks being “forgotten” as Russia’s war on Ukraine captures the world’s attention.

“It’s an extremely troubling prospect right now for the people of Yemen,” Steiner said in an interview with the Doha Forum when asked about the latest wave of hostilities.

“The reality is that despair, poverty, destruction has reached a level in Yemen where the majority of the population is somehow unable to support themselves,” he added.

A rebel attack on a Saudi oil factory on Friday sparked a huge fire near the Jeddah Formula 1 circuit during televised practice sessions. The attack was one of 16 drone and missile attacks against the kingdom that day.

In this file photo from January 26, 2022, a Yemeni fighter from the United Arab Emirates-trained Giants Brigades takes up a position near the village of Jafra on the outskirts of Marib Saleh Al-OBEIDI AFP/File

The wave of attacks came just before the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen.

The coalition stepped in to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2015, after rebels seized the capital Sanaa the year before.

The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people directly or indirectly and left millions on the brink of starvation in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

With the country almost entirely dependent on imports, aid groups say the situation will only get worse after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which produces almost a third of Yemen’s wheat supplies.

“Given the larger geopolitical reality, the risk is that Yemen will be partly forgotten and that will obviously be a tragedy,” Steiner said.

Some 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people depend on aid for their survival.

“This war has solved nothing”

Steiner said that the economic consequences of the conflict in Ukraine “are having repercussions on the world economy” and that this will “reduce the scope of international solidarity for international cooperation”.

Smoke and flames rise from a Saudi Aramco oil facility in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on March 25, 2022, following an attack by Yemeni rebels
Smoke and flames rise from a Saudi Aramco oil facility in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on March 25, 2022, following an attack by Yemeni rebels – AFP/Dossier

“Right now the world is gripped by the war in Ukraine, but the conflict in Yemen, the desperate situation in Afghanistan, these are still realities that will endure,” he said.

“They will inevitably receive less attention, and perhaps the biggest concern is…that the international donor community will essentially…reduce…funding.”

“That should be of concern to all of us,” Steiner added.

At a donors’ conference this month, the UN asked for $4.27 billion to help 17.3 million needy people in Yemen. But it only raised $1.3 billion, with some hoped-for major contributors failing to materialize.

This means “what we will see in the year 2022 is a further reduction in humanitarian aid, a reduction in food ratios and our ability, for example, to train Yemeni citizens,” Steiner said.

“All of this will be compromised,” he warned.

On Saturday, the Iran-backed Houthis announced a three-day truce and offered peace talks on the condition that the Saudis end their airstrikes and blockade of Yemen and withdraw “foreign forces”.

A man recovers personal belongings following overnight Saudi-led coalition airstrikes targeting the Houthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 26, 2022, after Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired at 16 targets across Saudi Arabia
A man recovers personal belongings following overnight Saudi-led coalition airstrikes targeting the Houthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 26, 2022, after Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired at 16 targets across Saudi Arabia MOHAMMED HUWAIS AFP/Dossier

Soon after, the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on Yemen, with UN chief Antonio Guterres condemning the mounting violence.

Steiner called for “peace, peace, peace,” adding, “This war…has not solved anything.”

“My appeal to the regional powers…is to stop this war and find a way to reconcile…in a way that does not harm the people as it is doing now.”