The silent emergency – the famine in Yemen raises serious concerns
On 1 March 2020, the United Nations held a virtual high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, co-hosted by the governments of Sweden and Switzerland. The Swiss government was represented for the first time by Ignazio Cassis, Vice President and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Switzerland has pledged CHF 14 million to support the humanitarian response in Yemen.
Ignazio Cassis expressed hope that new opportunities would arise for Yemen and its people. © FDFA
As a result of the armed conflict that broke out in 2015, Yemen is now facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million people – or 67% of the country's population – in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The country is also in the midst of a major migration crisis, counting 300,000 refugees and close to 4 million internally displaced people. This has had a catastrophic impact on the availability of food, education and healthcare. The country's economic decline and institutional collapse – the state has lost all control over the country – have weakened emergency services and led to shortages of essential items. There is practically no healthcare system, as medical facilities have also been targeted in the fighting. Many children cannot go to school, and famine looms in more than a third of the country's districts. These problems have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks of other diseases.
Statement by the Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Members of the international community, which is providing financial support for the humanitarian response to the crisis in Yemen, joined the virtual pledging event co-hosted by the governments of Sweden and Switzerland and organised in conjunction with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
Switzerland has made a long-term commitment in response to the crisis: it has pledged CHF 14 million to the humanitarian response in Yemen this year, making a total contribution of CHF 71 million over the past five years. Taking part for the first time, Vice President of Switzerland Ignazio Cassis expressed hope that new opportunities would arise for Yemen and its people. "We need to develop a more sustainable approach in order to build brighter prospects for the people of Yemen, " he explained. "That will require us to closely coordinate humanitarian, development, human rights and peacekeeping efforts in the country."
The aim of the pledging event was to raise awareness of the deterioration in living conditions in Yemen, and particularly the heightened risk of large-scale famine. A side event – "The Silent Emergency: What can we do to improve maternal and child nutrition in Yemen" – was held prior to the main conference and was attended by Patrizia Danzi, Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
How is Switzerland responding to the crisis?
The crisis in Yemen is manmade, and while that is distressing, it also means that a solution can be found. Like Yemen, a number of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are also in the grips of major armed conflicts, causing a sharp rise in poverty and social inequalities and partially or totally eroding democracy and the rule of law. For that reason, the entire region became a priority area in Switzerland's Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23.
Switzerland enjoys a good reputation in the MENA region. As a neutral country with expertise in good offices, Switzerland currently plays a key mediation role in international disputes in the region and helps to maintain an open dialogue between the parties to conflicts. In Yemen specifically, Switzerland is supporting the UN-led peace process and actively contributing to finding a political solution within the country.
As part of its 2021–2024 strategy for the MENA region, Switzerland has defined two priority areas for Yemen. It is committed to bringing back peace and security and safeguarding human rights, and it is also working to find a viable solution to the migration crisis. In addition, Switzerland is pursuing its humanitarian aid efforts, focusing on water, sanitation, hygiene and food security. Lastly, it is committed to ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law and to protecting civilians.