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Yemen Is The Middle East’s ‘Forgotten’ Humanitarian Crisis
July 9, 2014
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A refugee camp in the capital Sanaa (Photo: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

In early 2011, the Arab Spring took root in Yemen, leading to the country's first-ever democratic elections a year later. But the Middle Eastern country's democratic transition, which saw major gains in political participation by women and youth, is threatened by what the UN and aid groups have called its "forgotten" humanitarian crisis.

Here's how bad things are in the country.

According to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than half of the entire population — some 14.7 million people — are in need of humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity is widespread, affecting an estimated 10.5 million Yemenis, according to the World Food Programme, with 4.5 million identified as "severely food insecure" — unable to either buy or produce sufficient food for basic nutrition. And 13 million people don't have access to clean drinking water (as much as 40 per cent of the country's water supply is used for the cultivation of khat, a mild stimulant whose popularity is on the rise).

Some other alarming facts: Oxfam recently reported on what it calls "a paralyzing fuel crisis" in Yemen, with diesel fuel effectively disappearing from gas stations over the last six months. In a country where diesel is essential for transportation and food preparation, this fuel crisis has spill-on effects throughout the economy. Meanwhile, according to Oxfam, the country's basic social safety net is severely underfunded, leaving many millions in a dire situation. Last year, the UN said it received only 53 per cent of the aid money required to help the country.

So what's behind the current humanitarian crisis? Yemen's political situation is complex and extremely volatile. In the south, the government is currently fighting a separatist movement called al-Hirak, which harkens back to the country's civil war in 1994. In the north, Sunni tribesman allied with the government have been battling Shia Houthis, who recently captured the city of Omran after intense fighting that killed 200. The country is also home to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose activities have been the target of U.S. drone strikes. Militants of various stripes often attack oil pipelines, hobbling the country's major economic driver.

And, as former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband points in the Independent, a quarter of a million of those in need are actually refugees from nearby Somalia and Ethiopia, who often suffer racial discrimination when they arrive.

Various humanitarian groups are working to help turn things around in the country. The World Food Programme (for which George is an Ambassador Against Hunger) recently released this video about its programs to fight hunger in Yemen:

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