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‘We look on as people starve to death, and we do nothing’

According to the UN, three million children in Yemen are at grave risk of starvation Keystone

Despite the catastrophic situation in Yemen, political scientist Elham Manea still believes the situation is not hopeless in her country. She calls on Switzerland to act as an intermediary at the donor conference in Geneva on Tuesday. 

Manea, who has Yemeni and Swiss citizenship, says negotiations need to take place at a local and regional level. What’s the situation for the population in Yemen? 

Elham Manea: Every ten minutes a child dies from malnutrition. We look on as people starve to death, and we do nothing. Everyone is suffering there, but as usual it’s women and children who are affected the worst. Women suffer in particular from rape, which is used as a weapon of war. 

The UN and the EU agree that it’s one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes ever. The situation is catastrophic – the international community is now aware of that. Have you got no hope for peace? 

E.M.: The situation is not completely hopeless. But to find a solution there needs to be action on two levels: regional and local. On a regional level Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be brought to the negotiating table, because without the support of the two most powerful states in the region there won’t be any way out. But it’s also important to understand that this conflict wasn’t triggered by these two powers. There are problems at a local level with local figures who are fighting each other. These adversaries must also start negotiating. 

Without international pressure it’s very difficult to find a solution for the two levels of conflict. If one acts only on a regional level, there will always be clashes. What do you expect from the international community and in particular Switzerland? 

E.M.: Switzerland is in a special position because it is trusted by everyone involved in the conflict. Therefore it must play an important diplomatic role as a mediator. From the international community I expect pressure to be exerted on the warring parties to find a solution for lasting peace. 

I hope the international parties will not turn a blind eye to a population that is starving to death. They have to respond to the appeals of humanitarian organisations for something to be finally done. 

 The top United Nations humanitarian official called on Monday for Gulf countries to help avert mass starvation in Yemen, where two years of war have left millions at risk of famine. 

Stephen O’Brien, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, spoke a day ahead of a major conference in Geneva where the UN is seeking $2.1 billion (CHF2.1 billion) for Yemen this year. 

The world body has received only 15% towards that appeal, none of it from regional countries, UN records show. 

Yemen is reeling from conflict between Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, against a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that is carrying out air strikes almost daily. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting. 

Some 17 million of Yemen’s 26 million people lack sufficient food and at least three million malnourished children are in “grave peril”, O’Brien said.


Adapted from French by Thomas Stephens

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