EU response to the conflict in Yemen
The war in Yemen, which has been raging since March 2015, has taken a heavy toll on the country and its population. According to the UN, over 24 million people (over 80% of the population) are now in need of assistance, out of which 12.2 million children. The UN is conducting its largest food aid operation in history to feed more than 10 million Yemenis every month. The conflict, which initially pitted the Government of Yemen against the Houthi movement, has multiplied into new conflicts, including with direct links to the larger geopolitical dynamics of the region. Although the parties signed the Stockholm Agreement in December 2018, agreeing to a set of confidence-building measures on Hodeidah, Taiz and the exchange of prisoners, implementation remains a challenge and hostilities have intensified on several frontlines. The exchange of 1.056 prisoners on 15-16 October 2020 was a long awaited successful implementation of an agreement in Yemen. The Riyadh Agreement on power-sharing and security cooperation, signed by the Government of Yemen and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) in November 2019 following violent clashes between the two, has been partially implemented. A new government was formed on the basis of the Riyadh Agreement in December 2020.
Throughout the conflict, the EU has remained active in three main areas:
1) Political support, diplomacy and human rights
2) Humanitarian assistance
3) Development assistance
The EU's overall contribution to Yemen in all three areas comes close to €1 billion since 2015. The EU's response has been guided by various sets of Council conclusions, the last of which welcomed the Stockholm Agreement agreed in December 2018 and reiterated the EU's strong support to the United Nations Special Envoy in view of resuming peace negotiations. The EU's interventions in Yemen aim to operationalise the Development-Humanitarian Nexus. EU programmes address both immediate, medium, and long-term needs, with a particular focus on the resilience of the country.
1) Political support, security and human rights
The EU will continue to actively support the efforts of the United Nations in achieving a peace settlement in Yemen. The EU pursues political consultations with all stakeholders, both in Yemen and in the region, with a view to complementing the efforts of the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and push for the resumption of political negotiations.
The EU is providing €15 million in support of crisis-response activities. In coordination with the UN Special Envoy's office, the EU promotes local dialogues, trains journalists, provides economic and development analyses, facilitates the agreement on local ceasefires and supports the participation of local actors in peace negotiations. The EU also supports de-mining efforts in the country, the UNDP-led Peace Support Facility for Yemen, provides assistance to the Yemeni Coast Guard and prepares a technical assessment of the infrastructure and security impediments to reopening the Sanaa airport.
Moreover, the EU, in coordination with the UN and other donors, has convened several initiatives to raise awareness on the conflict, to build trust among parties, and promote a reflection on the future of the country.
In a country that relies heavily on imports, the EU is backing UN-led efforts to facilitate the flow of commercial items and humanitarian aid into Yemen. In this regard, the EU has been among the top donors to the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) based in Djibouti. The EU's support to UNVIM was articulated in a Council decision in August 2018 and was renewed for another year in October 2020.
Political fragmentation, weak governance and deficient criminal justice capabilities have prompted the EU to work along other donors on stabilisation initiatives with actions worth €18 million. These are meant to enhance the capacities of local key security providers such as the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. The EU also trains selected community leaders on how to improve security structures at the local level.
Additionally, the EU pursues two security-related regional projects that include Yemen in their scope: the first one (€11 million) aims at enhancing law enforcement capacity on counterterrorism in line with human rights and the rule of law, and the second (€6 million) contributes to national and regional efforts to meet international standards on anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT). Furthermore, the EU is financing an action aiming at setting up a ceasefire monitoring in close collaboration with the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen (OSESGY) and is also supporting Track II mediation efforts at different levels (local authorities, CSOs, political parties and tribes).
The EU and its Member States have reaffirmed their support to accountability mechanisms in Yemen in view of achieving sustainable peace. In this context, the EU has supported the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen established by the UN Human Rights Council. It has called on all sides to cooperate with the Group and advocated for a reinforcement of the Group's mandate.
2) Humanitarian aid
The conflict in Yemen continues to fuel the world's largest humanitarian crisis. Yemen's humanitarian needs are enormous and most of its population is affected. Yemen is also the biggest food security crisis in the world. 20.1 million Yemenis are food insecure of which 10 million severely food insecure. The situation could further deteriorate if restrictions to imports of basic commodities, such as of food, fuel and medicines, and obstructions to access persist, combined with the economic crisis and the devaluation of the national currency.
In addition to the food crisis, Yemen is also facing the spread of preventable diseases. The cholera outbreak that has been affecting Yemen since 2017 was declared the worst cholera epidemic ever documented. In 2020, the already fragile health system has come under enormous strain due to the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The EU has reacted to the crisis by stepping up its contribution to the humanitarian effort. In 2020, the EU allocated over €114 million to humanitarian assistance for Yemen, bringing the EU’s support to humanitarian funding to a total of €563.36 million since the beginning of the conflict in 2015.
This aid goes to projects implemented by EU partners (United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, Red Cross branches and International Non-Governmental Organisations) across the whole country. The EU's focus has been on emergency assistance to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and those directly affected by violence as well as wider support on nutrition – especially to treat severely malnourished children -, healthcare and food security programmes.
With the recent epidemics that occurred in Yemen, such as cholera, preparedness and response to epidemics was already a key focus in the EU’s humanitarian strategy during the last years. To respond to the recent Covid-19 outbreak, the EU supports infection prevention and control measures. The EU has also funded protection activities with a particular focus on gender-based violence, education in emergencies and actions that enhance rapid response capacity among partners, logistical support (including UNHAS flights), and coordination and advocacy actions.
3) Development assistance
The conflict came on top of pre-existing economic woes in the country, with lasting devastating effects on the livelihoods of large parts of the Yemeni population. The EU has so far provided €337.3 million in long-term assistance, making the EU one of the leading development donors in Yemen.
The allocation for Yemen in the period 2018-2020 under the Development Cooperation Instrument amounts to €150 million. The EU has focused this assistance on the provision of basic services to ensure that local communities are protected from famine and disease, strengthening their resilience in the face of crisis. Addressing the urgent needs of internally displaced populations and their host communities is also an important component of EU development assistance to Yemen.
The Covid-19 outbreak has put Yemen’s already ailing health system under severe strain – it is estimated that only ca. 50% of health facilities were operational at the onset of the pandemic and the situation has only worsened with scarce resource being diverted from key healthcare sectors to respond to the rising needs in pandemic response. The EU immediate development response was aimed at supporting health infrastructure and systems with a dedicated Covid response special measure of €14.3 million. Ongoing development projects in the health sector were also adapted to better respond to the pandemic.
The EU is also supporting Yemen's fragile health services and infrastructure with projects worth €26 million that fight malnutrition and work to create a network of community health workers to help prevent the country's health system from collapsing.
One of the EU's flagship programmes, worth €70 million and running from 2016 to 2021, has been dedicated to Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen (ERRY). In a country where millions are on the verge of famine, the EU has offered special support to agri-businesses and livelihoods in rural communities to help families build up sustainable farming practices.
Through this programme, the EU has also supported social cohesion by recruiting and training local mediators, including female mediators in places like Beit Al Faqeeh where teachers have been trained in methods to resolve local conflict though non-violent means.
The EU has also focused on maintaining the social fabric within communities in Yemen and on building trust between the citizens and their local institutions. In rural areas, the EU has helped re-establish hundreds of local community councils and assisted communities in adopting more than 500 self-help and self-reliance initiatives, including on education, benefiting more than 80.000 Yemenis through a range of community infrastructure projects. More than 22.000 individuals benefited from community asset rehabilitation through 'cash for work' schemes and 870 micro-businesses were created.
The EU has also helped set up two micro-business associations that can support and advocate for a better economic environment in the country. Through our partner Al Amal Bank, the EU has also disbursed 2.000 micro-grants to businesses whose operations had stopped due to the conflict.
In 2019, the EU launched additional resilience support for local communities worth €79 million. The new package builds on the success of the ERRY programme, expanding the work to urban areas. In parallel, the EU is assisting economic actors and small-scale businesses, in order to create jobs and opportunities for Yemenis to sustain their livelihoods.
More than three million Yemenis have had to flee their homes since the start of the conflict. One million have been able to return only to find their homes and communities destroyed. Almost two and a half million remain internally displaced. The EU is responding to the continuous displacements caused by the conflict by contributing to the resilience of IDPs and their host/return communities through a new action worth €30 million. Additionally, Yemen hosts 60,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, mainly from Somalia, and it remains a transit country for thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa on their route to the Gulf States.
Children cannot wait for conflicts to end. This is why the EU is also seeking to ensure adequate access to education to a generation of Yemeni children, some of whom have been out of school for more than two years. Through EU support to the education sector, the number of students attending school has increased by 33% and dropout rates have decreased from 11% to 3% in target areas.