The war in Yemen has to end now. There is no time to lose. With every month, tens of thousands of Yemenis join the millions who do not have enough food to survive. In recent weeks, the figure has risen from 13 million to 20 million of Yemen’s 28 million people. The UN estimates that 85,000 children have already died of starvation and disease.
UN agencies are calling for $5 billion to provide food and medical aid for starving Yemenis. With each passing year, cost of humanitarian aid rises by $1 billion.
On the humanitarian front, there has been no breakthrough to reverse the trend of increasing Yemeni dependence on external aid. Instead, conditions for Yemeni civilians continue to deteriorate. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation are set to release a report on December 13, detailing the worsening humanitarian conditions endured by Yemeni civilians, particularly those living in eight towns controlled by Houthi rebels, where about 2 million children under the age of five years are severely malnourished. At least 60,000 Yemenis have died due to fighting and bombing.
UN-mediated talks in Sweden taking place over the past week seem to hold some hope for military de-escalation, if not yet for a political settlement. Last weekend, the Saudi-sponsored government and Houthi rebels achieved two breakthroughs in their first encounter since 2016.
The first breakthrough involved face-to-face negotiations after three days of indirect talks with UN envoy Martin Griffiths shuttling between the sides. The second breakthrough was an agreement on a prisoner exchange. All captives, estimated to number 15,000, held since the beginning of the three-and-a-half-year war are meant to be released in stages over coming months. Those freed will include high ranking figures held by the Houthis, including a former minister of defence and relatives of UN-recognised President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
This round, convened in the rural village of Rimbo in Sweden, had originally been scheduled for the end of this month, but was brought forward by the looming crisis in Yemen. Civilians face both warfare and a lack of water, food, fuel and medical supplies.
On two key issues, meant to be confidence-building measures like prisoner releases, the sides have had major differences, making it difficult to reach accommodations.