The conflict in Yemen has sadly been raging for more than six years now, but peace for its tormented population might finally be on the horizon. Saudi Arabia, leading the international coalition supporting the internationally recognised government, has put forward an initiative to end the war in Yemen.
The initiative calls for political negotiations with the crucial involvement of the UN and would allow for opening up transport to people in need. Hopefully, it would also lead to the access of crucial medical supplies and vaccines to those in need, access that has been frequently denied by the insurgents.
For peace to happen, the role of the UN, and indeed of UN resolution 2216, is key, and it is important to note that UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has welcomed the initiative to end the war in Yemen.
In Saudi Arabia, we are not surprised by the UN’s welcome. While the narrative in Europe is at times different, we remember very well why we are involved. We also know the great efforts we undertake to better the conditions for the lives of the Yemeni citizens. As late as 23 March, the UN Secretary General thanked Saudi Arabia for supporting the UN efforts, something that was passed in silence by those looking to sow divisions rather than accord.
Having a ceasefire and a clear view towards peace is the first step. The next one, which must follow immediately after, is to rebuild Yemen. We must help with the immediate needs and look to the future. Part of our efforts include building hospitals and facilities - but also education facilities with everything included - from where to teach to where students can live.
“Having a ceasefire and a clear view towards peace is the first step. The next one, which must follow immediately after, is to rebuild Yemen”
The Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY) was established through royal decree to assist the Yemeni people reconstructing their country by working with their government. SDRPY accomplishes its mission with donor involvement from partner organisations and countries advocating on behalf of Yemen.
We need to ensure that a future generation of experts and practitioners of healthcare, engineering, and agriculture are trained, so that the country can build its own future. Some of these efforts are already under way, but now they must be increased.
On 1 March 2021, the UN’s Virtual High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Situation in Yemen, was held. The event aimed to raise vital funds for the people of Yemen. As in any war, the civilians suffer the most. They suffer directly and indirectly. Their hopes and conditions get worse as the economy crashes and work dries out.
They suffer as the Houthi-militia repeatedly loot vital humanitarian aid and food supplies and anything they can put their hands on, and block access to much-needed vaccines and medical supplies, even jeopardising the protection of the environment, following a potentially destructive oil spill off the coast.
This is all to say that the situation in Yemen is grim. Grimmer than any of us care to think about. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said before the event: “Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades. In the absence of immediate action, millions of lives may be lost. … [We] risk a tragedy not just in the immediate loss of life but with consequences that will reverberate indefinitely into the future.”
It is in this context we need to ask ourselves if we can afford - as human beings - not to act. To combat the looming famine, the UN aimed to raise funds from the world’s donors. In total, close to $1.7bn was raised. Of what was pledged for the people of Yemen, the majority came from Saudi Arabia in addition to the other GCC Countries (40 percent).
The European Union and its members (27 percent), from North America (15 percent) and the non-EU countries in Europe (almost 10 percent). In total, close to 40 countries and international organisations (such as the EU and the UN’s CERF (Central Emergency Response Fund)) made pledges at the event.
While it would have been ideal if more was raised, I also see hope in the figure. The number raised shows that Yemen is not forgotten by the world, and the coalition of solidarity with its people remains.
As my country's representative, I am proud that more than 25 percent of all funds raised for Yemen, comes from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the world’s top donor to Yemen totalling more than $17bn in aid since the war started). I am, however, also aware that we cannot look at the support just in terms of pledges. If we did that, it would be all too easy to rest on our laurels, while the suffering continues.
Instead, the best that can happen for Yemen and its inhabitants is the return of Yemen to the control of its internationally recognised legitimate government. This means a legitimate authority in control and with access to help all of its citizens. It means an end to the exploitation of this war-torn country by those who have sought to turn Yemen into a lawless base to launch terrorist attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in other countries and it means international NGOs having access to the entire population.
This is why we continue to support the efforts of the United Nations, and why we again urge an internationally backed solution respecting UN resolutions 2140, 2201, and 2216, and the legitimate government. This must also be in line with the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference outcomes and the Kuwait peace talks.
“As my country's representative, I am proud that more than 25 percent of all funds raised for Yemen, comes from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”
While we wait for peace, the situation in Yemen calls for urgent support on many fronts. Immediate food aid is but one of them. This is why I write this piece: to urge that our international efforts to help are increased. Looking at the many projects in Yemen supported by Saudi Arabia, it is clear on how many levels the citizens need help.
There is a need for clearing mines and unexploded ammunition. The Saudi Project for Mine Clearance (Masam) in Yemen has already cleared hundreds of thousands of mines and shells, yet many, many more remain. The expertise of our friends in Europe to help here is greatly needed.
Fighting the pandemic remains critical. Sadly, the Houthi-controlled areas are choosing the path of ignoring the pandemic. They do not report, do not perform testing, do not treat, and do not try to prevent. We must counter this, by continuing to fund projects and supplies.
This is what we do in Saudi Arabia, and, hopefully, we will do it together with our international friends and partners. Our aid programme in Yemen, the KSRelief Aid are already working together with the WHO to support COVID-19 preparedness and response in Yemen, and we hope we will be joined in this by our European friends.
There is a real possibility for peace in Yemen, but the ball is in the court of the Houthi and their foreign backers. We urge everyone to apply extra pressure to ensure that peace negotiations can begin, and that they can conclude successfully.