Human Rights

Peace talks seen as key to stemming Yemen's staggering misery

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi


Ali Yehya Hayba and his children, who fled fighting between the Houthis and the Yemeni forces, are seen here on November 24 at al-Sumya displacement camp east of Marib city, the last remaining government stronghold in northern Yemen. [AFP]

ADEN -- With the death toll from Yemen's seven-year war projected to reach a staggering 377,000 by the end of 2021, many are pointing to the need for peace talks with increasing urgency.

Negotiations are the only real solution to stemming the bloodshed, officials and experts in Yemen told Al-Mashareq, noting that the country's human and economic losses have exceeded all expectations and estimates.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that the death toll from the war in Yemen will reach 377,000 by the end of the year.

In a November 23 report, it said nearly 60% of deaths have been caused by the war's indirect impact, such as hunger, disease and the lack of safe drinking water.


Yemeni 10-year-old girl Ahmadia Abdo, who weighs 10kg because of acute malnutrition, sits on her bed at a camp for the internally displaced in Hajjah province on January 23. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

By the end of 2021, it said, fighting will have killed more than 150,000 people.

Yemen has been embroiled in war since the Iran-backed Houthis staged a coup in Sanaa in 2014, prompting the Saudi-led Arab coalition to intervene in support of the legitimate government the following spring.

The conflict has had "catastrophic effects on the nation's development", according to the UNDP, with Yemen now facing what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

Children dying of hunger

Most of those killed as a result of the indirect effects of the war were young children, a segment of the population that is especially vulnerable to undernourishment and malnutrition, the UNDP said.

"In 2021, a Yemeni child under the age of five dies every nine minutes because of the conflict," it said.

During a high-level event on the sidelines of the 76th General Assembly in September, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) director Henrietta Fore painted a grim picture of childhood in Yemen.

She said there are 1.7 million displaced youth, 11.3 million youngsters depending on humanitarian assistance to survive and 2.3 million under-five "acutely malnourished", nearly 400,000 of whom are at "imminent risk of death".

"Each day, the violence and destruction wreak havoc on the lives of children and their families," she said.

"Being a child in Yemen means you have probably either experienced or witnessed horrific violence that no child should ever face," she added. "Quite simply, Yemen is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child."

In his address at the same event, World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley said food rations are needed by 12.9 million, while 3.3 million children and women need special nutrition, together with 1.6 million schoolchildren.

"We're literally looking at 16 million people marching towards starvation," he said.

War 'devoured everything'

"The war in Yemen devoured everything," Deputy Minister of Legal Affairs and Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

"This figure is frightening," he said of the UNDP's projected end-of-year death toll, adding that he would not be surprised if the end figure exceeded this estimate, primarily as a result of the fierce, ongoing battle in Marib.

Abdul Hafeez said two-thirds of this figure represents indirect victims of the war, meaning they were civilians, not military personnel, and died from conditions such as poverty, hunger and disease.

There are active appeals for the provision of food and relief aid to assist those who have been displaced in Marib province, especially with the winter approaching, he said, without which the number of deaths will likely increase.

According to the UNDP, Yemen's economic losses as a result of the war amount to about $126 billion, with the armed conflict transforming Yemen into one of the poorest countries in the world.

Economist Abdel Aziz Thabet said the losses mentioned in the UNDP report refer to gross domestic product (GDP), and do not include losses to the infrastructure that was damaged in the fighting.

He said the halt in Yemen's production of oil and gas, the virtual halt in overall domestic production, and the disruption of the financial system have caused the national currency to lose more than 60% of its value.

All these circumstances combined have led to deterioration in the standard of living, with poverty and unemployment rates reaching record levels, which portends a "disaster", Thabet said.

The first steps to stem Yemen's compounding losses must include a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table with full willingness, Abdul Hafeez said.

"Unfortunately, there is no way to stop the disaster except by resolving the war, bringing back state institutions and working toward reconstruction," Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi said.

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