Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries. And it has been devastated by a civil war that continues unabated – and largely ignored.
The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the Arab Spring of 2011, in a political uprising to transfer power from the authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Hadi inherited a fractured system, further weakened by jihadist attacks, corruption, unemployment, civil unrest, and food insecurity.
The conflict escalated in early 2015 due to Saudi airstrikes countering Iran’s attempt to secure regional power. The story is far more complex, but while the fighting continues, Yemenis continue to suffer.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world. The United Nations estimates that 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – is in need of humanitarian assistance. 8.4 million people are at risk of starvation. The health system is near collapse, and Yemen’s cholera outbreak (the largest in recorded history) has killed thousands. This list of injustices goes on, but the world remains quiet.
Continents away, on April 15, a church in France lost part of its iconic rooftop in a fire. No lives were lost. As of April 20, 900 million Euros had been raised for repairs. And donations have not ceased. 900 million Euros would not meet all of Yemen’s needs, but it is far more than it currently has. Yemen needs 4.19 billion dollars to meet its humanitarian needs. According to the UN humanitarian appeal, only 7 per cent of this has been funded. 93 per cent – 3.9 billion dollars – remains unmet.
I do not argue that we need to choose between one tragedy and another. But I will argue that human lives – no matter where they may be – are far more valuable than buildings – no matter how old they may be.
Yemen is the forgotten emergency of our time. And in every emergency, women are the forgotten population.
According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual analysis by the World Economic Forum measuring how far countries are from gender equality, Yemen ranks the worst in the world. Ranking 149th of 149 countries, Yemen’s gender gap is the world’s widest, not only because of the civil war, but also due to pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities. It is now well known that emergencies are more dangerous for women. Women and girls are deliberately targeted, and protracted crises magnify insecurities, compelling women to resort to risky sources of income, such as trafficking and sex work, in order to survive.
UNFPA estimates that more than 3 million women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence in Yemen. There are 60,000 women at risk of sexual violence. Other forms of violence – such as intimate partner violence and child marriage – are also increasing as a result of the war. And the risks for women do not end when the conflict ends. For women, the journey from violence to peace is never linear. And it is never sufficiently prioritized – or resourced.
In my 15 years of work with the UN, in conflicts from Afghanistan to Central African Republic, I never once saw 900 million Euros arrive in five days. I worked on sexual violence, and despite unspeakable suffering, this work was always the least funded in every single conflict.
Research indicates that the biggest predictor of peace in any country is not found in economics or politics, rather the answer lies in how the country treats its women. In times of conflict, gender equality goals seldom appear on the agenda. And when the time comes to negotiate peace, women do not have a seat at the table, or a voice in negotiating what that peace should look like, and how it might affect women. Yemeni women have been notably absent from negotiating a peace process that will dramatically affect their lives.
The overwhelming response to Notre Dame says a great deal about what we value. Carl Kinsella’s astute article reminds us that the money is there. What we lack is the will. When we fail to value lives lost in emergencies, we fail to connect with our fellow humans. And no value placed in art, bricks, or buildings can replace this.
The suffering in Yemen continues. We simply fail to see it.