Yemen most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe in 2021: IRC

In a list of countries where crises are set to worsen, aid agency ranks Yemen first for the third year running.

A nurse holds a malnourished girl at a malnutrition treatment ward of al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen October 27, 2020 [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Yemen is the country most at risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in 2021, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has warned, marking the third year running the war-ravaged nation has earned the grim recognition.

Continued conflict, widespread hunger and a collapsing international aid response threaten to dramatically worsen the current crisis in Yemen next year, the IRC said on Wednesday.

Tamuna Sabadze, the aid agency’s director for Yemen, said support was critical, now more “than ever”.

In an interview with Al Jazeera from the capital, Sanaa, she called for “more commitment than we see today” from internal, regional and global actors to end the conflict.

“Without this, things will not change in Yemen; the ordinary civilians of Yemen will really have no future and no hope.

“Twenty-four million people are in need of some kind of humanitarian aid – be it food, protection, health services, or education.

“The majority of the country really needs the UN and humanitarian funding in order to meet their basic day-to-day needs.”

The IRC’s watchlist for 2021, ranked from one to 10, comprised: Yemen; Afghanistan; Syria; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia; Burkina Faso; South Sudan; Nigeria; Venezuela and Mozambique.

An internally displaced Afghan boy sits outside his shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

A further 10 countries were also on the list but were unranked in terms of gravity: Cameroon; the Central African Republic; Chad; Colombia; Lebanon; Mali; Niger; Palestine; Somalia and Sudan.

Abeer Fowzi, IRC’s deputy nutrition coordinator, said: “In the face of an unprecedented threat, the world has turned its back on Yemen.

“Never before have Yemenis faced so little support from the international community – or so many simultaneous challenges.”

Financial support for the country is drying up, with UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warning in November Yemen had received less than half of the emergency funds it needed this year.

Lowcock told the UN Security Council the 2020 appeal for Yemen had received only about $1.5bn in donations to date, some 45 percent of the $3.4bn required. By this time last year it had received almost $3bn, he said.

According to the UN, 80 percent of Yemen’s 30 million people need some form of aid or protection.

About 13.5 million Yemenis currently face acute food insecurity, including 16,500 people living in famine-like conditions, UN data shows.

In 2014, the Iran-aligned Houthi rebel group seized large swaths of the country, including Sanaa.

The war escalated in March 2015, when a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in an attempt to restore the government of Riyadh-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The coalition has been assisted by several Western powers, including the United States.

Both sides have since been accused of war crimes during fighting that has killed more than 100,000 people to date, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project.

Peace talks aimed at resolving the conflict have been stalled since late 2018, despite repeated efforts by UN officials to revive negotiations and end what it calls the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Crises grip Afghanistan, Ethiopia

Afghanistan was ranked second after Yemen. An ongoing deadlock in peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government has thwarted an end to the country’s nearly 20-year war.

“Humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are growing rapidly amid COVID-19 and unrelenting violence – which could rise rapidly in 2021 if intra-Afghan peace talks fail to make progress,” the IRC said.

Ethiopia rose into the top five on the watchlist for the first time, because of an unfolding crisis in the northern Tigray region.

Since November 4, the Ethiopian government headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been battling forces loyal to the region’s former rulers, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea and ushering in democratic reforms in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation and home to myriad ethnic groups.

His government forces took control of Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, more than two weeks ago and officials claim that pockets of fighting remain.

But analysts said the ongoing conflict threatens to deepen Ethiopia’s political, economic and health challenges and could complicate efforts to transition towards democratisation.

“In 2021, Ethiopia plans to organise elections, which often come with heightened risks of violence and instability, and find durable solutions to inter-ethnic conflicts, including over boundaries,” Adem K Abebe, an adviser on constitution building and governance at the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, told Al Jazeera.

“There is also a need to rebuild Tigray – an impoverished region already suffering from the locust invasion – and deliver on services.

“All of this under difficult economic conditions and with limited resources.”

Source: Al Jazeera