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Yemen recovery possible if ceasefire is reached, says UN

A displaced Yemeni man walks past makeshift tents in a camp for displaced people in the province of Hajjah, Yemen, March 2012. (Keystone/EPA/STR)

Yemen can end extreme poverty within a single generation if the six-year conflict is ended immediately, a new report by the UN released Tuesday has found.

Yemen’s seven-year conflict will have claimed 377,000 lives by the end of 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned in its report.

Nearly 60 per cent of deaths will have been caused by indirect impacts such as lack of access to safe water, hunger and disease, while fighting will have directly killed over 150,000 people, it said.

Already one of the poorest countries in the world, the war has reversed Yemen’s development by over two decades, with over 15 million people living in extreme poverty. However, the UNDP forecasts the country could reverse development losses providing peace is achieved by January 2022.

“What is happening in Yemen, to Yemeni citizens, to the future of this country, to the promise to its children, is really unfathomable,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner at the launch of the report. “The world is in danger of forgetting the millions of people in Yemen who are actually no better off than they were a few years ago.”

Using statistical modeling to analyse future scenarios, the report suggests that the stabilisation of the security situation, coupled with other recovery measures, could see Yemen move to middle-income status by 2047.

The UNDP also projects that malnutrition can be halved by 2025, and that the country can achieve $450 billion of economic growth by 2050 providing peace is achieved and the international community focuses its efforts on helping the country recover.

“This report on Yemen provides new insights into the world’s worst humanitarian and development crisis. Millions of Yemenis continue to suffer from the conflict, trapped in poverty and with little possibility for jobs and livelihoods,” said Steiner. ”The study presents a clear picture of what the future could look like with a lasting peace including new, sustainable opportunities for people.”

“There is never an endpoint to say there is no future – Yemen will have a future,” he said at the report launch.  “And part of what we can do while we try and help, keep people alive with humanitarian support, is to support livelihoods so that they can train and develop new skills.”

The world’s largest humanitarian crisis

The country has been trapped in a civil war since late 2014 when Houthi insurgents took control of Yemen's capital and largest city, Sana'a, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government. In March 2015, a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia intervened and led a campaign against the insurgents.

Efforts by the UN and US to broker a ceasefire between Saudi Arabia-backed government forces and Iran-backed Houthis rebels have stalled.

The conflict has pushed millions of Yemenis into crisis, with more than 80 per cent of the country’s population in need of humanitarian assistance and the economy close to collapse. Children are being hit the hardest. According to the UNDP’s report, a Yemeni child under the age of five dies every nine minutes due to the conflict.

Over 16 million Yemenis are now facing starvation, with Yemeni children most vulnerable, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), who warned in October that funds to help Yemenis could run out in a matter of weeks.

In the UNDP’s third report in a series looking into the impact of the war in Yemen using modelling to forecast future scenarios, the organisation projects the conflict will claim 1.3 million lives if it continues to rage until 2030.

A growing proportion of those deaths would be caused by secondary impacts of the crisis such as destruction to livelihoods, rising food prices and the deterioration of basic services such as health and education, which would grow from 60 per cent to 75 per cent by 2030.

While the crisis has already pushed nearly five million Yemenis into malnutrition, the report projects this toll will grow to 9.2 million by 2030 if the war persists, and push the number of people living in extreme poverty up to 22 million – 65 per cent of the population.

“Yemen is the world's worst and largest humanitarian and development disaster, and it is continuing to worsen,” said Steiner.

No lost cause

The UNDP said an end to the conflict was the only way to end suffering in Yemen and urged the international community to act to ensure an inclusive recovery spanning all Yemeni society, and with development goals in mind.

The report projects that in the last six years the crisis has caused Yemen to miss out on US $126 billion of potential economic growth.

Women’s empowerment is key to recovery, according to the UNDP, with projections showing that focused efforts on uplifting women and girls across Yemen can lead to a 30 per cent boost of GDP by 2050, coupled with a halving of maternal mortality by 2029.

“The people of Yemen are eager to move forward into a recovery of sustainable and inclusive development,” said Khalida Bouzar, director of the UNDP regional bureau for Arab States. “UNDP stands ready to further strengthen our support to them on this journey to leave no one behind, so that the potential of Yemen and the region can be fully realised – and so that once peace is secured, it can be sustained.”

Although the report holds “hope for a brighter future for Yemen”, the UNDP acknowledged that, for now, “the situation continues to propel in a downward spiral”.

Escalating fighting has endangered civilians and destroyed infrastructure in some areas, particularly Marib – the internationally-recognised government's last major stronghold in the country's north.

Yemen's government said on Sunday it is confident it will keep hold of the city of Marib despite sustained attacks over the past few months. Nevertheless, the humanitarian situation in the region is deteriorating as fighting intensifies.

The UNHCR said on Tuesday it is “gravely concerned” about the safety of more than one million displaced people in Marib. Some 40,000 people have been forced to flee the city since September, UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told a press conference in Geneva. The violence has impeded humanitarian access, hampering supplies of food and medical equipment, damaged infrastructure and forced UNHCR to close five of its accommodation sites.

Switzerland's foreign minister Ignazio Cassis called on Saudi Arabia this week to support a ceasefire in Yemen and the resumption of the peace process between government forces and Houthis. Years of UN efforts to get both sides to start peace negotiations have proved unsuccessful.

“Millions of Yemenis continue to suffer from the conflict, trapped in poverty and with little possibility for jobs and livelihoods,” siad Steiner.

“It is not a moment when the international community can turn away from Yemen,” he added.