EU response to the conflict in Yemen
The war in Yemen, raging since March 2015, is taking a heavy toll on the country and its population. According to the UN, over 24 million people 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 evolved in complexity and drawn in multiple actors, including countries from the region. Although the parties signed the Stockholm Agreement in December 2018, agreeing to a set of confidence-building measures on the Red Sea ports and the city of Taiz, and concluded an exchange of prisoners, implementation remains a challenge. Moreover, hostilities continue on several frontlines.
Throughout the conflict, the EU has remained active in three main areas:
1) Political support, security and human rights
2) Humanitarian assistance
3) Development assistance
The EU's overall contribution to Yemen in all three areas has gone over more than €1 billion since 2015. The EU's response has been guided by several sets of Council Conclusions, the last of which welcoming the Stockholm Agreement agreed in December 2018 and reiterating the EU's strong support to the United Nations Special Envoy in view of resuming peace negotiations. In addition to lending support to the UN-led process, the EU's interventions in Yemen aim to address immediate, medium, and long-term needs, with a particular focus on the country’s resilience. Ensuring that developmental and humanitarian action work in sync – ie, operationalising the nexus – remains a key priority.
1) Political support, security and human rights
The EU will continue to support and complement 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 cessation of hostilities and the resumption of political negotiations.
The EU is providing more than €19 million in support of crisis-response activities. In coordination with the UN Special Envoy's office, the EU deploys Track II dialogues promoting inclusive and multitrack efforts, with an emphasis on women and youth. In so doing it promotes local interparty, tribal and regional dialogues; trains journalists for fair reporting; provides economic peace process advice and development analyses; co-chairs a technical working group on ceasefire; and facilitates on-the-ground agreements on local ceasefires. Through its efforts, it seeks to enhance the participation of local actors in peace negotiations. The EU also supports de-mining efforts in the country, provides assistance to the Yemeni Coast Guard and is supporting the elaboration of 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 launched several initiatives to raise awareness on the conflict, to build trust among parties, and to promote a reflection on the future of the country. The EU is also a donor to the UN’s Peace Support Facility for Yemen.
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 the top donor 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 until September 2020.
Political fragmentation, weak governance and a deficient justice administration have prompted the EU to work along other donors on stabilisation initiatives. 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 is funding 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).
The EU and its Member States have reaffirmed their support to accountability mechanisms in Yemen in view of achieving sustainable peace. In this sense, the EU is actively examining avenues for transitional justice and reconciliation. Moreover, 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. According to the UN, 24.4 million people (over 80% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which 14.4 million in acute need. In terms of food security, acute needs are widespread, with a growing number of people – approximately 17 to 19 million – expected to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance through September 2020. A risk of famine persists in Yemen. The conflict and its disproportionate economic consequences on civilians continue driving the largest and most acute food security emergency in the world. The situation could further deteriorate if restrictions to imports and obstructions to access persist, combined with a devaluation of the national currency.
In addition to the food crisis, Yemen is also confronted with the collapse of health services, resulting in the spread of preventable diseases. Yemen has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation is rapidly degrading with high mortality and severity of cases. The measures taken against the pandemic, such as closing some businesses and limiting movements and transport, have also deprived many households of their income, further increasing food insecurity. Moreover, cholera outbreaks have continued in Yemen during the first five months of 2020.
The EU has reacted to the crisis by stepping up its contribution to the humanitarian effort. The 2019 contribution reached €115 million. In 2020, an initial allocation of €40 million has been increased with an additional €4 million to strengthen the EU’s COVID-19 response. On the occasion of the Yemen Pledging Conference of 2 June 2020, the EU has announced €71 million in new funding, bringing the EU’s total humanitarian contribution to more than €553 million since the beginning of the conflict in 2015.
Besides the COVID-19 specific programmes, this aid goes to projects implemented by EU partners (UN, ICRC and INGOs) 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. Moreover, the EU has 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.
The European Commission and Sweden hosted a Humanitarian Senior Officials Meeting on Yemen on 13 February 2020 in Brussels. All humanitarian actors remain firmly committed to continue providing vital support to the people of Yemen in line with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality. Participants reminded that a fundamental improvement of the operating environment was urgently needed. All restrictions, obstructions and interferences violating humanitarian principles should be removed immediately. The EU continues coordinating actively with all stakeholders advocating for the respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the respect of humanitarian principles.
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 €323 million in long-term assistance, making the EU one of the leading development donors in Yemen.
This assistance has focused 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. Yemen is currently particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic – years of conflict have resulted in a weakened health system and the territorial divide of the country does not provide optimal ground for a nation-wide response. In assisting Yemen to face this new crisis, the EU is offering immediate and longer-term support, amounting to €55 million to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EU has been 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. In 2020, as part of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has mobilised €14.3 million for targeted support to maternal and newborn health in the new crisis conditions.
Addressing the urgent needs of internally displaced populations and their host communities in these challenging times is also an important component of EU development assistance to Yemen.
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 through 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 its partner Al Amal Bank, the EU has also disbursed 2.000 micro-grants to businesses whose operations had stopped due to the conflict.
In 2020, the EU is launching additional resilience support for local communities worth €79 million. The new package will build on the success of the ERRY programme, expanding the work to urban areas. In parallel, the EU will assist 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.